Streets for People / Stock Island and Lower Keys Workforce Housing Needs Frequent Transit 

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on March 11, 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. 

Affordable workforce housing is blossoming in the Lower Keys. Over 700 units of workforce housing have recently been occupied, are under construction, or have building permits approved in just the last two years. All this new housing is north of Cow Key Bridge. So, most work, shopping and entertainment trips into Key West will be by car. Key West Transit is ill-prepared to meet the challenge of providing all these people with a real alternative to driving their vehicles to get around. These car-dependent developments force each adult to own a car to get from one place to another – adding to the expense of living in the Keys. And all those car trips harm our environment and degrade our downtown with more traffic and parking congestion. The County and City need to quickly invest in Key West Transit today and provide a viable alternative for people to travel into town before driving habits get set.

Lots of New Workforce Housing and More Transient Units Coming Online Means More Traffic

The 208-unit Quarry Apartments on Big Coppitt were finished at the end of 2021. Building permits have been issued for 88-units at Dockside & the Landings Apartments on Lower Sugarloaf. 36 units received building permits in two separate developments on Cudjoe Key. Another twenty plus units have been requested on Big Coppitt. On Stock Island the quick construction going on at the 280-Unit Wreckers Cay means occupancy should start this summer and the project completed by the end of the year. The Key West Housing Authority’s 104-unit Garden View Apartments on College Road is under construction and should come online in 2023. That’s over 736 units of workforce housing coming online within a very short time frame.

And that doesn’t include the 148-transient condos just approved at the Key West Harbor Yacht Club on Maloney Avenue on Stock Island. THAT’S a lot of additional traffic on top of the trips generated by the still fairly new Oceans Edge resort and marina’s 175 guest rooms and 52 slips and the Perry Hotel’s 100 rooms and 220 Stock Island Marina slips.

The Best Time to Change Commuting Habits is When People Move

Behavior change research over the last few decades shows the best time to start a new commuting habit, like taking transit or riding a bike to work, is when a person moves to a new home or starts a new job. So, the perfect time to nudge people to try the bus is when they move into these new developments. I’ve known transit agencies around the country to give a free month or two of transit to new residents to incentivize them to try the bus for example. Once the habit is set, they can become regular customers.

Says Bloomberg News:

“Whether you drive, bike, walk, or take the train, the way you get to work each day is more of an automatic response than it is a conscious choice. So long as other patterns in your life are constant, there’s no signal telling you to ditch your car in favor of the bus—even if you know it’s the cheaper, more environmentally friendly thing to do. To trigger changes in commute habits, studies have shown, a shift in context is key. Research provides new evidence that changing residences can encourage a change in travel norms.”

So, shouldn’t the County and City be encouraging new residents as they move in, to try doing something different?

But the Bus Service Is Awful. It Should Be Frequent and Free

Yes, the County and City should be encouraging these new residents to use the bus instead of driving. And handing out free bus passes would be a great start. The problem is that the bus service is so awful, no one uses it for commuting. Census data shows 1% of Monroe County residents and less than 1% of Key West residents use the bus to get to work. That’s because on the Lower Keys Shuttle there are just 10 trips all day into Key West and 10 trips a day from Key West to Marathon. It’s 95-120 minutes between buses. On the North and South Lines that serve Stock Island the bus comes along every 80-95 on weekdays and less on the weekends. The frequency of the buses and span of service simply can’t compete with the convenience of driving, no matter the hassles of traffic and parking. And if existing residents don’t use it, why would we expect the new people moving in to use it?

Then there’s the issue of cost. The Lower Keys Shuttle is $4 each way. The North and South Lines are $2. While one can get $75 and $25 monthly passes for each, the incentive to take the bus when the service is so infrequent just isn’t there. It needs to be frequent and free. 

Lack of Transit Begets Car-Dependency, Which Drives Up Living Costs

The County and City should be commended for addressing the affordable housing crisis by setting aside ROGOs for all these affordable/workforce homes. But when these units are car-dependent because they lack quality transit, it works against bringing down housing costs because every adult and teenage dependent needs a car to get around. And that’s expensive.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) says the average cost of owning and maintaining an automobile is nearly $10,000 annually. For most people, after housing, transportation is their second biggest expense. Emerging research shows that policy makers should consider the combined housing + transportation costs and look at total affordable living, not just housing when addressing the issue. We go into detail on this subject in our May 14, 2021, article “How Better Transit and Bicycle Facilities Can Help Address Affordable Housing.”

By providing a viable transit alternative maybe every adult doesn’t need to own a car and County and City leaders are then helping address the affordability crisis.

Lower Keys Shuttle Bus Stop Improvements a Start

The little bit of good news is that sometime this summer the City, thanks to Sustainability Coordinator Alison Higgins foresight, will being installing bicycle racks and lockers, map and schedule information, hail lights, bicycle fix-it stations and trash and recycle bins at most of the Lower Keys Shuttle bus stops between Marathon and Key West. The effort is part of a “Final Mile” grant from FDOT to bridge the gap between people’s homes in the Lower Keys by bicycle, to the bus stops along U.S. Route 1. Read the details in this August 20, 2021, story entitled “City to Make It Easier to Bike to the Lower Keys Shuttle Bus.” 

 We could use a lot more good thinking like this. Better, easier to access bus stops is a start. But we really need more frequency to go along with that improved access.

Why Not Require Shuttles or Pay Into Public Transit at these Developments?

The Perry and Oceans Edge hotels on Stock Island each offer free shuttle buses from their properties to the Historic Seaport in downtown Key West. They operate hourly service in each direction from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.  The Perry’s shuttle even stops at Higgs Beach. I’ve sat at Conch Republic and watched people pile into and pile out of these shuttles. The Marriott Beachside’s shuttle operates hourly from 8:00 am to 11:00 pm and has two stops on Duval as well as the airport. They work at keeping guests from using their cars to get downtown. 

To its credit the County did require the developer to install two bus shelters at bus stops next to Wreckers Cay. But why aren’t the developers of larger projects like Wreckers Cay, Garden View, the Quarry, and Dockside & the Landings Apartments required to do shuttles like what the hotels do? Or if not their own shuttle, then some significant annual contribution to Key West Transit that can buy free rides for residents and help increase the frequency? This kind of thing is done all over the country to mitigate the traffic and parking congestion that comes with new development. Seems we’re missing the boat by not requiring a shuttle or contribution to Key West Transit on Stock Island and the Lower Keys.

Bikes As an Alternative from Stock Island

Using bicycles as an alternative on a small, flat island where we have decent weather 12 months of the year can be an alternative for some people. While we can’t expect people to ride bikes from the Lower Keys to downtown Key West, as we said above, they could ride bikes to the Lower Keys Shuttle bus. But Stock Island is a little closer. I ride my bike to Stock Island from my Historic Seaport neighborhood a few times a week, so know the routes. The new Garden View apartments at just 4.2 miles and 22 minutes to the Historic Seaport are fairly close and one doesn’t have to cross U.S. Route 1 at any point. However, there are no bike lanes on College Road and well, one must navigate N. Roosevelt Boulevard. With all the commercial activity and driveways, North Roosevelt can be scary for some people. 

Wreckers Cay on the County side of Stock Island, behind the CVS and next to Boyd’s Campground is 4.7 miles and 25 minutes to the Seaport via N. Roosevelt Boulevard. Wreckers Cay residents could stay on the south side of Stock Island and cross U.S. 1 at Duck Avenue and use the safer Crosstown Greenway, which cuts across the middle of Key West via Duck Ave., Staples Ave. and Von Phister St. instead of N. Roosevelt, but it is slightly longer at 5.3 miles and 31 minutes.

The City can help by making it safer for Stock Island residents coming to work in Key West by installing protected bike lanes on College Road and working with FDOT to reengineer N. Roosevelt Boulevard to have less conflicts. They can also make it safer and easier to cross U.S. Route 1 at Duck Avenue to get to the Crosstown Greenway. The County can help by working with FDOT to make the sidewalks and bike paths on its side of the island, especially along the commercial properties safer and easier too. That and widening the narrow sidewalks adjacent to the Navy/VA Health Clinic around the bend where A1A meets U.S. 1.

What Happened to Multiple Plans to Increase Frequency?

Through many meetings and multiple processes, a consensus has been built that improved public transit is vital for our future prosperity. Key West Transit’s adopted 10-Year Transit Development Plan (TDP), the City’s Sustainability Advisory Board (SAB) and the first draft of the City’s Key West Forward Strategic Plan all called for increasing investment in our public transit system to pay bus drivers more, increase the abysmal frequency on all routes and move towards free fares. The Mayor and most Commissioners echoed the call during the budget hearings.

During last year’s Strategic Plan process, presentations to the public and Commission in June stated that North and South Lines should go from the current 80 – 95 minutes to 30 minutes and on the Lower Keys Shuttle from 95 – 120 minutes to every 60 minutes. At the time the Mayor and Commissioners noted they hoped the 30-minutes was interim as they eventually wanted to get to 15 minutes between buses. After all this planning and consensus building everyone seemed a little surprised that the Finance Department presented a no-growth Transit budget for the coming year at the July 22nd City Commission Budget Workshop that didn’t include these changes. Later we were told that a decision by the City to raise employee salaries by $2.8 million annually or $5,417 per employee meant there was no money for transit.

So, we’ve lost a year when we could be making improvements. We suppose we have no choice but to give leaders a mulligan and move forward. But when we asked Key West Transit officials, on two different occasions what plans they had to serve these new communities, the totality of their response was “Existing routes already serve these areas.” That’s not acceptable. Not when buses arrive every 80 to 120 minutes. To its credit the County provided a much more thoughtful and thorough response even if they didn’t say more frequency was forthcoming. 

We aren’t surprised at the lack of transparency nor follow through when it comes to KW Transit as the following disappointing stories from the last year attest:

The Key West Forward Strategic Plan for improved frequency presented to the public and Commissioners in June, 2021.

City AND County Need to Work Together to Invest in Transit. NOW!

We’re investing in workforce housing on Stock Island and the Lower Keys. We’re investing in upgrading all the bus stops along the Lower Keys Shuttle route and the most used stops on Stock Island and Key West. But we must do better than just 10 trips a day in each direction on the Lower Keys Shuttle and the North and South lines serving Stock Island. Waiting an hour and twenty minutes to two hours between buses isn’t reliable and frequent enough service to entice anyone to ditch their car and take transit instead. 

In next year’s budget we need to do what the Strategic Plan originally called for and increase the frequency on the Lower Keys Shuttle to every 60 minutes and on the North and South lines to every 30 minutes. And the next year that should go to every 30 minutes and 15 minutes respectively. Seven days a week. Early morning until late at night. And the ride needs to be FREE for residents. 

Currently 55% of the Transit Department’s budget comes from Federal and State sources, and that doesn’t include a recent $1M American Rescue Plan grant. That grant could be used to jump start more frequent service. Most of the balance of the 45% comes from various dedicated parking fees. There’s little if any local tax dollars going into the system. Changing that could be an option. Or if there’s no stomach for using tax dollars, we need to get creative and find sources to cover an investment in the system. Increased parking fees? TDC funds? Sales tax? Bed tax? Toll on Cow Key bridge? 

What’s clear is that both the County and the City need to work together and find ways to invest more. If more people take the bus, it makes our streets less congested and makes it easier to find parking for those that must drive. It is friendly to our environment and helps combat climate change. It will allow more of our beleaguered workforce to get around without the expense of a car. It makes us healthier and happier too. We must get this done.

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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 car-free downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

Streets for People / We Can Adapt and Save the Florida Keys from Rising Seas

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on March 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. Feature photo credit Rob O’Neal/Florida Trend Magazine. 

Last week the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released: Climate Change 2022 – Impacts, Adaption and Vulnerability – Summary for Policy Makers, a report drawing on thousands of academic studies from around the world that warns us our planet is getting hotter and as a result raising sea levels several feet in the near future with catastrophic consequences. The New York Times headline blared “Climate Change Is Harming the Planet Faster Than We Can Adapt.” The Washington Post said of the report, “Communities must more aggressively adapt for the changes they know are coming. These investments could save trillions of dollars and millions of lives, but they have so far been in short supply.” For those of us living in the 113-mile-long island chain of the Florida Keys, where the average elevation is 3.2 feet, it’s enough to make you shudder and run for the hills.

Luckily for us then that Monroe County does indeed have a plan to adapt to rising sea levels. Several in fact. And they’ve been at it many years already. Collecting data. Assessing vulnerability for habitat, buildings, and infrastructure. Identifying policy and funding options. Developing engineering plans. And even testing alternative solutions. In a world that mostly seems behind the eight ball on dealing with climate change and adapting to sea level rise, our own Monroe County government and its partners have been gamely plowing ahead with plans to adapt and save paradise. All its going to take to come to fruition is leadership, citizens coming together and a little bit of money. Okay a lot of money. 

Monroe County Is Especially Susceptible to Sea Level Rise

Source: Monroe County Roadway Vulnerability Analysis and Capital Plan, February 23, 2022

Wherever you live in the Keys we’ve all seen the effects of King Tides and stormwater on our streets and properties. So, imagine this as a year-round thing instead of just in October and November. That’s just a small example of what’s to ahead in the coming decades as our waters rise due to Climate Change. By 2025 it is predicted our local waters will rise 1.5 inches. By 2045 one foot and by 2060 almost 2 feet. When the baseline rises like that, everything gets worse at high tides and especially during extreme weather events. 

We’ve Got a Plan for That

I attended a February 23 online Roads Adaption Project Virtual Public Meeting hosted by Rhonda Haag, the County’s Chief Resilience Officer and Judith Clark, Director of Engineering. They and the extended consultant team (Emilio Corrales, P.E. – Project Manager, HDR, Inc.; Greg Corning, P.E. – subconsultant from Wood Environmental Engineering and Erin Deady – subconsultant from Erin Deady LLC) that reports to Rhonda gave a presentation (video and PowerPoint) that is an absolute master class in efficiently explaining our vulnerability to the problems of sea level rise, King Tides and extreme weather events and what we as a community can do to adapt, specifically by raising our roads. I came away thinking where did these wonky, passionate public servants come from? I was awed by the amount of effort that’s already gone into the projects and how rapidly they were collecting and analyzing data and turning that into concrete, actionable plans. I appreciated how they tried to tell a simple story about a very complicated subject using data, charts, and pictures to depict a way out of this crisis. I can’t say I got everything they threw at us in one hour, but my overall impression was that these extremely smart people can save our home if we follow their direction. 

When I talked to Rhonda, she shared that a couple years ago, before they hired the consultant team, she was less optimistic we could save our Keys. But now, two years later after we’ve done the engineering, she said the story is much more positive. “There’s a lot of potential sea level rise coming to the Keys, but science and engineering have shown we can extend our stay for quite a while.” 

Rhonda said of the team: “They are a professional team that knows their subject areas well (engineering, permitting and policy and legal matters related to roads). They have been enormously helpful in working with the County on this project.” Believe me, it showed.

County Resiliency and Sea Level Rise Efforts

The County is addressing Climate Change and sea level rise in a big and comprehensive way. Rhonda tells me that few other places in the country could be looked to for examples of how to lay out the work when they started this project, so that much of the team’s work is breaking new ground.

Raising Our Roads

The presentation concentrated on the 311 miles of roads in the unincorporated areas of the County. To date they’ve completed accurately collecting LiDAR data (high resolution maps depicting elevation) for all 311 miles of road, developing a roadway ‘Vulnerability Score’ – influenced by environmental factors such as roadway surface inundation and a ‘Criticality Score’ – influenced by human factors, like how many people live along a segment and then collected these into 96 neighborhood area groups. Engineering analysis was then conducted to assess what areas where most vulnerable and initial plans and recommendations were made for these neighborhoods on where and how high to raise the roads and engineering solutions on how to deal with the water in an environmentally positive way.

If you got to keysroadsplan.com you can go to the Maps section and find your street and neighborhood’s specific plan. No one size fits all. Everything depends upon the elevation, the width of the road, it’s ‘Score,’ what’s next to the road and so much more. The depth of data, analysis and detailed recommendations by road segment is stunning and worth exploring. It also includes shoulders, sidewalks, and bike paths. We should note that the team stressed raising the roads is just part of the solution. “Harmonizing” the road fix with the adjacent properties is going to be a team effort with property owners as raising the road and, in many cases, some amount of land on either side will affect driveways, mailboxes, and utility poles and lines.

About 152 miles or half of the total are considered vulnerable and critical county roads that need to be raised by 2045 when it is expected that our seas will have risen at least one foot. This will affect 12,585 residential units or 71% of the population in the unincorporated part of the County. 

There’s too much detail about all the different ways the roads can be raised and how you take care of the water – because gravity dependent storm drain systems won’t work in a future where our water table has risen – in the hour-long presentation to do it justice here. So, we encourage you to view the PowerPoint presentation here or watch the video of the presentation here.

Key West and the other four municipalities in the Keys have not been left out. We’re told that each of the municipalities has already budgeted monies to collect the needed LiDAR data and the County has applied for grants that would help stretch that into the analysis, engineering and recommendations phases already completed for the non-incorporated portions of the County. We’re all in this together.

We Can Extend Our Stay on This Island Chain. But Only If We Act

County staff and the consultant team are busy wrapping up their work so they can release a final report to the County Commission in June 2022. Then the real hard work begins because well that’s when our political leaders need to find the will and gumption to figure out how to fund a $1.8 billion dollar project over the next 25 years. 

Rhonda told me: 

“First the plan is doable, and we can remain here as residents and businesses for the foreseeable future. Second in order to do that we need a financial plan to help fund these road elevations. This is a new program for the county and new programs require new funding sources. Regular tax dollars cannot fund this program. As we still have to operate and maintain all of the existing public facilities.”

Hopefully most of us love our home enough that we’re willing to chip in a little bit more to leverage State, Federal and private dollars that could be available to help mitigate rising sea levels. We must find some creative ways to develop new revenue streams that can help too. Now is not the time to stick our heads in the sand and deny the problem, hope it goes away, or selfishly leave it to another generation to fix.

We’re especially fortunate that because of the County’s initial foresight we’ve got a team of people who have already started the hard work of collecting the data and doing the engineering to save us. We need to trust the science and get to work. Find out more about this important project at the links below and please tell our County and City Commissioners that you expect them to act. 

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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 car-free downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

Streets for People / Will a Deal On Cruise Ships Finally Lead to Closing the Gap at Admiral’s Cut?

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on February 25, 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. Feature photo credit Rob O’Neal. 

For more than a decade and at least as long as we’ve been discussing plans for Truman Waterfront Park in earnest, it seems we’ve been talking about closing the gap at Admiral’s Cut. The cut is a nearly 50-foot waterway gap in the walkway between Mallory Square and the resorts on the one-side and the Truman Waterfront Park on the other. If not for the break, one could walk from Zero Duval and the Sunset Pier all the way along our beautiful sunset waters to the U.S. Coast Guard’s Ingham Museum and on to the Coffee Butler Amphitheatre and Fort Zack Park in a matter of minutes. But because of the gap, one must walk a circuitous additional 30-45 minutes – if you know the way – just to transit those 50 feet. That’s ridiculous.

Me, looking toward the gap at Truman Waterfront Park from the Margaritaville side.

The gap exists because the people/corporations who’ve owned the property over the years didn’t want it open to the public.  It’s not surprising, given the self-centered owners, the City hasn’t been able to negotiate a resolution all these years. The City Attorney has been reluctant to go the route of an eminent domain fight that was called for as long ago as 2009 by then Commissioner Rossi. Around this time last year Mayor Johnston returned to that idea as a negotiating tactic as talks finally seemed to be on again. Then the cruise ship referenda thwarted those talks as it is those very same owners who have the long-term leasing rights to Pier B. 

At last week’s February 15 City Commission meeting a cruise ships compromise was the big item on the agenda. It looks like the City is moving toward a two-pronged approach. 1. Not allowing cruise ships at its two piers and 2. Working with Pier B on amending the existing agreement to come closer to the spirit of the referenda limits. The talks with Pier B are an opportunity to also close the gap at Admiral’s Cut as part of a new agreement. City leaders seem to agree.

A Long History of Obstruction, a Flurry of Activity and then Back to Square One

Ever since the Navy gave the City the land that is now the Truman Waterfront Park in 2002, people have been discussing how wonderful it would be to have an extended walkway along the water. And ever since the idea popped up, it seems the owners of the private hotel that includes the walkway have been reluctant to provide access. Reasons over the years have ranged from increased pedestrian traffic along the walkway and proposed bridge over the gap disturbing the peaceful enjoyment of the property by their hotel guests or spoiling the view, to angst about a potential restaurant on Mallory Square competing with their restaurant. The reasons may have varied, but the answer was always the same. No. Or at least until the end of 2019 when talks seemed to get serious.

At the end of 2019 we reported: “City Manager Greg Veliz said in a recent meeting among the city staff, Joe Walsh and representatives of Margaritaville, which owns Admiral’s Cut, was “overall good news.” Veliz said the Margaritaville representatives did not oppose opening the cut, though they asked for additional time to put together their considerations for city review.”

In March, 2020 The Weekly reported: “We have received an initial proposal from the Tannex Corporation, also known as the Walsh family, who owns the Margaritaville Resort and Admiral’s Cut,” City Manager Greg Veliz told the city commissioners on March 3. “It’s very, very early in the negotiations, but we have received an initial offer that’s not outlandish, so (City Attorney) Shawn Smith and I will arrange a meeting to pursue these negotiations and hopefully turn that into something we’ve all wanted for several years.”

In August 2020 The Citizen reported that previous to the cruise ship referenda Margaritaville owners appeared willing to break the impasse but wanted limits on a proposed Mallory Square restaurant that would compete with Margaritaville’s existing waterfront eatery, Bistro 245 and asked that security cameras be installed at the site, security personnel patrol the area at night and the city foot the cost of the bridge. City Manager Greg Veliz is quoted as saying the offer was “not unreasonable.” But the crux of the story was that the negotiations were dead as the City Attorney said: “We’re a defendant in litigation brought by the owners of Admiral’s Cut. So, I wouldn’t say they’re falling over themselves to give Admiral’s Cut to the City of Key West at this time,” Smith said.” And that’s where things have stood since.

Truman Waterfront Park Plans Always Envisioned Closing the Gap

As the Truman Waterfront Park planning was finalized, a Development Application to be used as a precursor for construction in 2013, clearly indicates a “waterfront promenade with a proposed connection to Duval Street via the Admiral’s Cut pedestrian and bicycle bridge.” Our research into old news stories show Commissioner Jimmy Weekly as a champion and urging the City to negotiate closing the gap before construction started on the park. Saying at the time:

“Access across Admiral’s Cut would serve an important public purpose, providing access to the waterfront history of Key West, as well as a scenic and efficient pedestrian rout around the most dense commercial and residential part of town. We’re getting ready to break ground in another four months or so. If possible, let’s start the conversation now instead of later.”

Remember the Rainbow Bridge

Also, in 2013 the City Commission heard a PowerPoint presentation from 10-year-old Adelle Barsky-Moore about constructing an 85-foot “Rainbow Pride Bridge” over the gap. According to a news report at the time, Barsky-Moore, whose parents are gay, first conceived of the Rainbow Pride Bridge for a 4th grade class project, spending three weeks building a popsicle-stick model and crafting a presentation.” Commissioner Weekly is quoted as saying at the time “I thought it was a brilliant idea. I’m going to push this forward and try to get this accomplished.”

Years later, in March of 2020 as negotiations were engaged in earnest again, the Commissioner “reminded the commission of a presentation they had heard several years ago from a young woman who envisioned what she called “The Rainbow Bridge over Admiral’s Cut.” Weekly asked the city clerk to dig up the presentation to consider once negotiations with the resort owners have been finalized.” (The presentation can be viewed here by clicking on See Gallery at the bottom of the story.)

I wonder what a now 20-year-old Adelle thinks about her idea languishing for almost a decade.

Arts and Culture Master Plans Says Close the Gap Too

An Arts and Culture Master Plan, approved by the Commission just a few months ago addresses closing the gap. The plan was developed via 800 surveys and two big community meetings by Elizabeth Young, the City’s Public Arts Administrator who also worked with the City’s Sustainability Coordinator Alison Higgins, the Art in Public Places board, the Bahama Village Music Program and the Studios of Key West to develop the plan.

The plan calls for enhancing physical connections between the park and surrounding neighborhoods, including supporting a bridge over Admiral’s Cut and increased signage that draws visitors into the bordering neighborhoods by relating historical facts about them. 

Complaints on Social Media About Tourists Using “Our” Park

We should note not everyone is a fan of closing the gap. We noticed last year as Admiral’s Cut gained traction in the news that some people took to social media to complain that closing the gap would allow tourists to use “our” park. While we certainly understand a desire for quiet enjoyment of our local park, the idiocy of forcing people to walk 35-45 minutes out of their way to traverse 50 feet is reason enough to allow for a for more people in the park. Our observation is that the park is barely used as it is, except for Thursday Farmer’s Markets and special events. And without the potential of multiple cruise ships in port anymore, the likelihood of the park being “overrun” by tourists is substantially reduced. Let’s hope this sentiment doesn’t rear its head as Admiral’s Cut makes news again.

Time to Finally Close the Gap

Last week’s Commission meeting provided some hope that closing the gap would be addressed when the City, Safer, Cleaner Ships and Mark Walsh and the owners of Pier B get together in mediation. After Mr. Walsh came to the microphone to simply say they were in the house and “were looking to continuing to engage and find a solution” Commissioner Kaufman asked: “Can we address Admiral’s Cut during these discussions, can it be one of the topics in mediation?” Mr. Walsh responded: “I’m sure any topic is open in mediation.” 

While not a ringing endorsement, the door is open.

We weren’t surprised the Weekly papers reported that “Commissioner Jimmy Weekly also wants the March 1 mediation process to include the possibility of Pier B allowing public access to Admiral’s Cut.”

Commissioner Greg Davila told us this week: 

“I believe the bridge over Admiral’s Cut is a necessary component of the City’s negotiations and I am optimistic that all parties will come together on this.”

For a more walkable downtown, let’s hope Commissioner Davila is right and wish our negotiators well.

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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.

Streets for People / City’s On-Demand Transit Service Is Delayed Again. It’s 10-Year Plan is Scrapped Too

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on February 18, 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. 

At a Public Hearing on September 29 Key West Transit announced that its “Way Ahead” was to replace the North and South Lines and evening Duval Loop with a new “On-Demand Transit” service they likened to Uber that was to begin operation on December 20. No more fixed routes. Customers instead would book a trip and be picked up and dropped off at bus stops of their choosing. They foreshadowed this was coming during budget sessions over the summer. In early December KW Transit said this would be pushed back to the end of January. January came and went, so we reached out and were told the project is delayed again. This time because they want to wait for grant funds before proceeding saying “if the application is successful” they could receive $250,00 but added “the grant funding selection date has not been announced.” So, who knows when this might happen?

The bad news didn’t end there as transit officials indicated they were scrapping the 10-Year Transit Development Plan (TDP) adopted by the City Commission at the end of 2019 as “several conditions have changed within the city” and that the TDP’s “expansion strategy is now outmoded fiscally and by workforce availability.” Translation, we have no money and no workers. But just a week earlier they announced to much fanfare on Facebook that the agency received a $1 million dollar, no strings attached, American Rescue Plan grant. Huh?

Plan A was to invest more money in the system per the 10-Year TDP’s promise of more frequency between buses, simpler loop, and connector routes, and eventually a fare free service. Plan B was a temporary, budget neutral On-Demand service. Now that Plan A is scrapped and Plan B is on hold, we’re left with service that everyone agrees, and stats confirm, doesn’t meet the needs of residents. We’re more confused than ever about the future of the island’s little transit system. Let’s try to sort this out and see where we go from here.

The City’s Strategic Plan Survey of residents in January 2020 “suggests” so few people utilize public transit that the service couldn’t even be rated.

No One Takes the Bus

80, 80, 95, 80, 90, 80, 80, 80, 95, 80 Hut, hut. No, these numbers aren’t a quarterback’s cadence. They are the frequency in minutes between the ten daily weekday trips on Key West Transit’s North and South Lines on the islands of Key West and Stock Island. Yes, customers must wait 80 to 95 minutes between buses. And that’s the crux of the problem. With service so awful, no one uses it unless they absolutely must. So few people use the local bus lines that in a Strategic Plan survey of residents of 19 different City services in January 2020, no one knew enough to answer the questions about Key West Transit and so the system was left with no rating.

Census data shows less than one percent (1%) or almost no one takes the bus to commute to work. That’s almost unheard of in cities that have a bus system. Officials admit that ridership is declining, even on the at one-time successful Duval Loop. Duval Loop service use to run every 15-20 minutes. Now buses come by each stop every 25-40 minutes as the definition of the word frequent in its “Free and Frequent” slogan seems to have changed over time.

Free, Frequent and Simple – The Promise of the 10-Year TDP

The TDP calls for a series of Loops and Connectors with frequent service to create an optimal network.

Through many meetings and multiple processes, a consensus was built that improved public transit was vital for our future prosperity. Key West Transit’s adopted 10-Year Transit Development Plan (TDP), the City’s Sustainability Advisory Board (SAB) and the first draft of the City’s Key West Forward Strategic Plan all called for increasing investment in our public transit system to pay bus drivers more, increase the abysmal frequency on all routes and move towards free fares. The Mayor and most Commissioners echoed the call during the budget hearings.

During last year’s Strategic Plan process, presentations to the public and Commission in June stated that North and South Lines should go from the current 80 – 95 minutes to 30 minutes and on the Lower Keys Shuttle from 95 – 120 minutes to every 60 minutes. At the time the Mayor and Commissioners noted they hoped the 30-minutes was interim as they eventually wanted to get to 15 minutes between buses. After all this planning and consensus building everyone seemed a little surprised that the Finance Department presented a no-growth Transit budget for the coming year at the July 22nd City Commission Budget Workshop that didn’t include these changes. Later we were told that a decision by the City to raise employee salaries by $2.8 million annually or $5,417 per employee meant there was no money for transit.

On-Demand Transit to the Rescue

Mr. Delestrinos, Transportation Director reasoned if we can’t reach our target goal of greater frequency via more drivers than he recommended we change the way we deliver service. Without additional money for more drivers to increase frequency Key West Transit announced during the budget process that they were going to try an Uber-Like On-Demand system that they say will be better for customers while not costing any more money nor needing additional drivers. This new On-Demand service was first slated to begin as a pilot project on December 20. 

With the North and South Lines eliminated, customers can book trips between any two Key West bus stops pictured here.

The idea in short is to eliminate the North and South Lines and evening Duval Loop service and replace it with an On-Demand Service. So instead of buses traveling along a fixed route, one would use a smartphone app to request a trip like hailing an Uber. Rather than door to door, the buses would pick up and drop off customers at bus stops. (For details on how it is proposed to work read: Uber-Like Transit Coming to Key West? July 30, 2021).

At the time and given the choice between continuing with the same old service or trying something new, we applauded the department for thinking outside of the box and coming up with the pilot idea.

In December we checked in with Key West Transit and they said they hoped to start the new service at the end of January “with the go-live date predicated on effective agency training and public outreach.” As we indicated at the top, when we checked in last week, a start date now seems on hold.

On-Demand More Complicated and Expensive Than Initially Thought?

When we asked Transportation Director Rod Delostrinos on February 7 about the plans for the On-Demand Service, here’s how he responded:

“In January of 2022, the City of Key West submitted an application in response to a Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO), Enhancing Mobility Innovation, at the cost share of 80% Federal and 20% City. If the application is successful, the On-Demand Transit project funding potential is $312,500 ($250,000 Federal and $62,500 City) rather than the $45,000 allocated in the FY22 Budget. The potential funding could advance the On-Demand Transit project faster and avoid a multi-year project. The purchase of stationary kiosks throughout the operational area assists those passengers with technology limitations. Without the innovation grant funding, the kiosk purchase would occur over three years. Additionally, the funding would allow for a call center that would manage trip requests throughout the transit operating day. Current staffing levels only allow for call-in trip requests during office business hours of Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The grant funding selection date has not been announced.”

During their public hearing in September, a December 20 date for start of service seemed plausible enough to announce, so we figure that once they got into the nuts and bolts of doing this, it became more complicated and costly than realized. To date we haven’t seen a BID put out for an On-Demand system. Perhaps this is being developed in-house or is low-cost enough that it doesn’t need to go through a BID process, or they are waiting for grant funding before putting out a BID. However, it is done, securing a system and an app seems like a priority. Other, mostly rural, transit systems use on-demand services, so we know these are out there.

It also seems like the need for a smart phone as the optimum way to use the service met with the reality that some customers don’t have them. Thus, the need for kiosks throughout the island and a call center. Both would cost money and need time to ramp up. Based on the Department’s record keeping up with bus stops, we’re not too sure about them handling kiosks too.

We get they now realize this is more complicated than initially thought. But why the wait for $250,000 in grant money when they just received $1 million over two years from the Feds. Couldn’t some of this grant be used to advance the project forward since it is newfound money? 

The 10-Year Plan, adopted at the end of 2019 by the City Commission is being put on the shelf by the Key West Transportation Director as “Outmoded fiscally and by workforce availability.”

“TDP Expansion Strategy Outmoded Fiscally and by Workforce Availability”

The saddest news to come out of our inquiry into all this, isn’t necessarily the delays in the start of the On-Demand service. Especially as this service is thought of as a bridge to a more robust transit system as envisioned in the TDP. No, the surprising and sad news is that the 10-Year Plan that was worked on by a highly paid consultant, with members of the business and residential community over a one-year period, is now considered to be outdated and put on a shelf little more than two years after being adopted. (City Adopts Ambitious 10-Year Key West Transit Plan, December 30, 2019)

Here’s our question to the Transit Director about this and his answer in full:

Question: “The Mayor said: 

“One of our Collective disappointments for 2021 was our inability to create a free and frequent public transportation system.  And there is no one who was more disappointed than our transportation director Rod Delostrinos. If we seriously want to reduce congestion, improve parking, and attract a labor force from outside Key West, we must get this done.”

– Mayor Johnston during her January 4, 2022, State of the City Report.

“We’d like to follow up with our readers and share what this means for the future of Key West Transit. Is the On-Demand service a bridge to get to more frequent and free public transit in the near future? Will it look like anything in the TDP? Will the new and additional Federal funds be part of this?”

Here is the response:

“The City of Key West is committed to provide a safe and efficient public transit system.  Key West Forward, the Strategic Plan for the City of Key West 2021-2024, lists Traffic and Pedestrian Friendliness as Priority 6.  Within that priority, Goal 2 is to improve public transit. 

The last Transit Development Plan (TDP) was adopted in October 2019. The plan’s premise is to serve as a strategic guide for public transportation. Since the adoption of the plan, several conditions have changed within the city. Among these conditions include increased driver shortages. Diminished fare box recovery from severe reductions in ridership hampers the City of Key West’s ability to generate cost share (50% operational costs) from revenue. The 2019 TDP 10-year outlook essentially doubles the pre-covid pandemic routes and budget. That expansion strategy is now outmoded fiscally and by workforce availability.  

On-Demand Transit allows for the City of Key West to use its transit resources more efficiently. Transit vehicles within the city area will eventually only operate with trip requests thus eliminating empty or near empty vehicles from continuous circling of set routes. Fuel savings, better personnel utilization, and reduction in carbon emissions are just a few of the anticipated positive impacts. Developing new efficient fixed-route, circulator, and/or express service from the On-Demand Transit usage analysis is another potential benefit.”    

Regarding “Diminished fare box recovery from severe reductions in ridership hampers the City of Key West’s ability to generate cost share (50% operational costs) from revenue” we’d note that Bus Fares are $250,000 ($50K City lines, $200K Lower Keys Shuttle) of a $4,876,569 budget or 5% of the budget (page 203) overall. We hear ridership on the Lower Keys Shuttle is doing well. And it is understandable that the North and South Lines aren’t bringing in their anticipated $50,000 when the service is so bad. But again, it’s just 5% of the total and the City Lines only bring in 1%. One percent is barely enough of a worry to scrap an entire plan, right?

Regarding driver shortages we get it. The whole island is going through a staffing crisis. But this has been the department’s lament going on five plus years with no resolution. That and the City just committed $2.8 million or $5,417 per employee annually to help with that problem. Time to stop crying wolf and raise the wage like HTA does.

The Chicken or the Egg – What’s It Going to Take to Fix Key West Transit?

The Transportation Director laments severe reductions in ridership hampering the City’s ability to put out service. At the same time, the service has gotten so awful that few people want to ride it. Chicken or egg? Much of our State and Federal funding is based upon ridership numbers. So, if we let the decline continue our funding decreases. Invest in the service and get more passengers and our funding increases. Chicken or egg?

We need to go back to Plan A and implement the adopted 10-Year TDP with an investment (more money) in our little transit system just like the Commission, the Strategic Plan and the Sustainability Advisory Board have all said. If we need to use the On-Demand service as a bridge to get there because it costs not much more in the interim, fine. 

Currently 55% of the Transit Department’s budget comes from Federal and State sources, and that doesn’t count the recent American Rescue Plan grant. Other than the aforementioned Bus Fares the majority of the balance comes from various parking fees. For example, because the City’s Park and Ride Garage at the Seaport on Grinnell was built with Federal Transit dollars, profits must be returned to the Transit system. Monies were carved out in 2017 where 1/3 of the then increase in parking meter fees were set aside for the Transportation Alternative Fund used to help operate the Duval Loop. There’s little if any local tax dollars going into the system. Changing that could be an option.

Or if there’s no stomach for using tax dollars, we need to get creative again and find sources to cover an investment in the system. The Sustainability Advisory Board proposed another such increase in parking fees be set aside to provide more frequent service. But increases in those fees this year went to the General Fund instead – when experts tell us that parking fees should be used for alternative transportation improvements. What other innovations can we come up with? Can the TDC contribute instead of spending all that money on marketing? Can we dedicate some hotel tax revenue? Sales tax? 

In the end, if more people walk, bike, and take the bus it makes our streets more efficient. It is friendly to our environment and helps combat climate change. It is more equitable for all our citizens – allowing our beleaguered workforce to get to and from jobs without the expense of a car. It makes us healthier. And happier too. Very importantly it helps our local Mom and Pop shops prosper. As the Mayor said on January 4, “We must get this done.” We agree.

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You can find the 50+ 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.

Streets for People / Airport’s Need for Additional City Land Could Help Spur Salt Ponds and Smathers Beach “Locals” Bike Trails

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on February 11, 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. 

Last April the City’s then Multi-Modal Transportation Coordinator released a Transportation Report 2021 sharing that the Smathers Beach and Salt Ponds Trails, identified in the Bike/Ped Plan as important parts of a Key West bicycle network, were slated for design and planning in this year. Our story at the time set social media abuzz as long-time locals recalled using these trails as kids before they were filled in and blocked over the years. Residents agreed that bringing back these old, informal trails would provide safer and much quicker connections through the middle of town. 

Now we learn that well, things are a lot more complicated as the County’s Airport’s Authority wants some land in the area of the Hawks Missile Site. We support a recommendation making its way through the City’s Parks and Recreation Board and ultimately to the City Commission that prioritizes these two trails, among other passive open space amenities. The Airport’s need may turn out to be a good thing if a deal provides the needed funds to get these important projects done. We hope the City makes a commitment to the trails as part of any action with the County. Getting these built sooner than later would make it easier for locals to commute by bicycle and provide passive recreation access to a long-forgotten gem of an area.

Two Trails that Take Us Back to Days of Yore – 1. Salt Ponds Trail

The Salt Ponds Trail, called the Airport Connector Trail on page 65 of the Bike Plan, would connect the communities of Ocean Walk, Las Salinas and Seaside, where a lot of the city’s workforce lives, with downtown via a time-saving and safer bike trail. This new facility would cut behind the backside of the Key West International Airport, with the ideal design being a wide boardwalk or something with limited disturbances of nature, to Government Road where it would cross Flagler Avenue at 7th Street and then connect with the Crosstown Greenway. This short-cut between downtown and these uptown communities, would take riders through the middle of town and the salt ponds, rather than out and around S. Roosevelt Boulevard. It could save bikers 10+ minutes. Don’t underestimate the difference between a 20-minute and 30-minute commute, especially when the 30-minute commute is often windswept in at least one direction along the beach.

But it seems this new trail isn’t such a new idea after all. In fact, more than 20 years ago, those “in the know Conchs” knew of and used the trail.

Tom “the Bike Man” Theisen, owner of BikeMan Bike Rental Key West, tells us that he worked with Key West Bicycle Coordinator Jim Malcolm, who held the job from January 1999 until his death in November 2008, on the Salt Ponds idea including holding meetings and mapping a path. There already was a defacto path people used. “You could walk back there, and kids would ride bikes and play paintball.” In the early 2000’s Mr. Malcom wanted to formalize it.

He tells us:

 “The path from behind the salt ponds was complicated because the Sunrise Suites people didn’t want anyone going past their property.” He went on to explain that there is apparently an agreement that the city can have access through an easement to the Salt Ponds but because the Sunrise Suites objected, the project stalled. Even though nothing happened with the planning effort, “The area was accessible for a long time after that.”

The Bike Man goes on to say that over the years, fences were erected to prevent access and some channels dug to improve waterflow had similar effect. He ends with: “A connecting path is of course very logical and could be used for recreational purposes as well (as a good commute short-cut).”

The Bike/Ped Plan has one route and Tom has also mapped out two different alternatives show here. 

Two Trails that Take Us Back to Days of Yore – 2. Smathers Beach Trail

The long-term goal for the Smathers Beach Trail (page 69 of the Bike/Ped Plan) is to allow the High School to connect as well allowing students to have another path that doesn’t involve Flagler. It can better connect New Town residents to Smathers without having to travel along Bertha or go all the way around past the Cow Key Channel and airport. The proposed trail also lines up with FDOT’s proposed HAWK light pedestrian crossing.

Says Bike Man Tom Theisen:

“The whole area where the Cuban plane currently sits was open to the public, people drove out there and had their lunch etc. It was a nice space, and it was the start of a trail to Smathers Beach. The trail ran along the runway fence and ended at the bridal path close to the big concrete block (known as the Key West by the Sea condominium). It was easy to bike, though not paved. One day the city came in and put up a fence claiming people were dumping and that was the end of it. Years later they cut a channel where the path was so now a bridge would be needed to restore it.”

Both Trails Meet with Acclaim

During the community meetings and public surveys in preparing the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan people remembered these old paths and got them put into the document. Good for them!

Former City Manager Greg Veliz was said to be a champion of these trails because it revives routes that many Conchs used to use to wander through the Salt Ponds. Maybe they were on to something with these paths in the old days. Times were simpler and people expected common sense and practicality to prevail over other considerations. 

Tom Theisen says: “If the city wants to reduce automobile traffic the paths should be at the top of the list.”

When we asked Mayor Johnston about the trails she said:

“I can’t think of anything more appropriate than the trails for a low impact project that advances our bicycle/pedestrian master plan.”

And when we first reported on the potential for these two trails to be built it ended up being our third most popular story of 2021 and by far generated the most enthusiastic response on Facebook as locals thought they were a wonderful idea.

Airport’s Need Is Opportunity to Move This Project Forward Quickly

On August 17, 2021 the Airport Authority Director Richard Strickland  made a presentation (PowerPointVideo) to the City Commission. He explained that they need a little land next to one of the runways as a taxiway space. To provide for more taxiway space they’d need to take a little bit of wetland and in order to mitigate the salt marsh impact they’d have to remediate or turn something back to nature elsewhere and the perfect spot to do that is the Hawk Missile Site owned by the City. Mr. Strickland and the County are asking the City to deed them the land they need to do all this work. 

In exchange they’ve offered to do a number of things at their cost that the City has been unable to do for the last twenty years since they obtained the land because of a lack of funding and complications related to regulatory restrictions on the land. Items discussed at the meeting included the Airport Authority building a soccer field and relocating an antenna tower, currently at Higgs Beach, over to the Hawk Missile site, providing more room to do things at Higgs Beach. 

At the time, Commissioners seemed to want to give the Airport what they needed if they could get some things in exchange for the community, what they called a win-win.

When we recently reached out to Airport and City officials, we heard back from the City Manager and Commissioner Davila. The Manager told us that “No proposals have been voted on by the City Commission” and regarding the status of where any transfer is right now, she said “The City Commission requested the Parks and Recreation Board make a recommendation. No transfer is in the works.” Mr. Davila said something similar.

Parks and Recreation Board to Hear Recommendation for the Site

We understand the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board should take up this recommendation at its next meeting as early as February 24. It reads in part:

“Some of the passive activities that the Parks and Recreation Board has discussed in the past to better utilize this very valuable City asset include:

Multi-use bike and recreation paths to connect access to the area to South Roosevelt Boulevard at both Key West By the Sea and at the Salt Ponds Condos and Apartments (as proposed in the Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan.”

Whatever else gets done at this site, we need the two trails to be in any recommendation that the Parks and Recreation Board forwards to the City Commission. To make your voices heard you can email the Board members here.

We’ll note the City’s Sustainability Advisory Board (SAB) was to hear a presentation from Mr. Strickland on Thursday, February 10 but as of press time we don’t what happened. They did have this Hawk Missile Site Planning Review consultant report prepared on December 15, 2021 as part of the agenda item that we think explains just how complicated anything done in this area is because of all the parties involved.

Community Needs to Support the Trails as Part of the Airport Deal

We call on the City Commission to prioritize this important multi-modal transportation project and if it makes any deal with the Airport to ensure that the Airport’s Authority builds it with their funds, or the City dedicates any funding received in relinquishing the land to the trails. Either way we need this done because the Salt Ponds and Smathers Beach Trails aim to provide convenient and safe connections that entice people to use bikes instead of cars.

# # #

You can find the 50+ 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.

Streets for People / Too Much Surface Parking at The Lofts Is a Wasteful Use of Valuable Downtown Land

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on February 3, 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. 

We’re on record as big supporters of the City using the 3.2 acres in Bahama Village to build much needed affordable workforce housing. Now that the referendum has passed to lease the land for 99 years to a non-profit to build 126 units called The Lofts, we get down to brass tacks. One of the details of the project that has us flummoxed is how much surface parking is being proposed. Look at the preliminary site plan and it seems as if about half of the 3.2 acres is paved over for surface parking in the middle of downtown. 

This isn’t the mainland, or even New Town, so why is so much valuable land, in the middle of a dense downtown historic district, being given over to suburban style surface parking? And its next door to an underutilized City parking lot and a mountainous amount of parking available at Truman Waterfront Park. It’s not like we’ve got land to spare around here. Before this project gets final approval, we say the parking needs to be reduced and allow more of the land to be used for green space or even dare we say, more housing. 

Look for Yourself. Do You See Any Greenspace Here?

Here’s the two publicly available site plans for the project we’ve been able to find. The 3.2 acres includes the crescent shaped parking lot you see at the top, the three buildings and all the surface parking. The blob of green space at the top left is owned by the Navy. It isn’t part of this project, just surrounded by it and is going to remain fenced off for the tower. 

Look at how the parking pavement comes right up to the housing. That’s what happens when a city forces a developer to build a suburban style mainland standard amount of parking. You get something that looks like it belongs in Del Boca Vista. So, any criticism of this project, isn’t yet directed at the nice people at A.H. Monroe and their partnership – this travesty is on the City.

189, 180 or Even ‘Just’ 132 Surface Parking Spaces for 126 Units Is Too Much for Downtown

In an announcement on January 21, just after the good news that the referendum passed by nearly 70%, A.H. Monroe Executive Director Scott Pridgen who is also the leader of the non-profit coalition The Lofts at Bahama Village, a partnership that includes Vestcor, Toppino, and A.H. Monroe, picked to build the housing, said:

“We currently propose 126 units: 98 rentals and 28 home ownership with 189 parking spaces. This will be built on the last 3.2 undeveloped acres of Truman Waterfront, which the Navy gave to the city 20 years ago.”

When we asked Mr. Pridgen last week how he got to 189 parking spaces here’s how he responded:

“We only have the required LDR Section 108-572 & 160 which requires us to have a 1 to 1 ratio of one car per housing unit as well as requires five (5) handicap spaces for a project with housing units totaling 100-150. Based on the LDR requirements the Lofts requires 131 parking spaces based on 126 units of housing – we have 132. It is my understanding that the 48 existing parking spaces currently in the half moon area cannot be counted toward the developments total LDR requirements for the project. However, we are asking for clarification.”

So, there’s 132 surface parking spaces surrounding Buildings A, B and C. And another 48 surface parking spaces at the north end of the site plan in a crescent above Building C and the Navy tower. The 48 spaces are part of the 3.2 acres but must remain as parking, presumably for the Waterfront Park’s overflow use. However, Mr. Pridgen tells us they are also available for use by the Lofts residents likely with resident stickers for their cars.

132 + 48 is 180. That’s about a 1.5 to 1 ratio of parking spaces to housing units. 

So, still being confused we followed up again, and the very nice and patient Mr. Pridgen told us that after what he shared with us earlier (above) he had a meeting with HARC Staff for a preliminary review of the site. “We concluded with the 132 spaces and Allen Street being used for Moped and Bicycle parking only. More meetings will be with the DRC and other City Planners over the next few months to discuss how and if the 48 spaces can be incorporated into the design. All of these meetings and discussions will lead us to a final plan.”

It’s confusing, yes because we don’t know where the number of parking spaces stands now. 189, 180, 132 or 131? But the good news is that nothing is finalized yet so we can still get that number lower. So, stick with us as we continue the story…

Another early rendering shows there is little green space on the property, save for the fenced in Navy tower area.

Key West Code Requires One Parking Space Per Unit in the Historic District

A couple weeks ago in our very popular story Time to Reimagine Car-Centric, Mainland Style Sears and Kmart into Island-Friendly Centers with Housing, January 21, 2022, we discussed that the Key West Zoning Code requires one parking space per multiple-family dwelling unit within the historic district and two parking spaces outside of the historic district. 

For 126 units that’s 126 parking spaces needed plus 5 ADA spaces for a total of 131 required. 

What’s With the 48 Dedicated Parking Spaces in the 3.2 Parcel?

As Mr. Pridgen told us they currently have 132 parking spaces abutting buildings A, B and C. You can almost count these for yourself on the site plan. Plus, there are 48 parking spaces in the crescent that are part of the 3.2 parcel that can’t be used for anything but parking. That’s because those 48 spaces already exist as part of the Truman Waterfront Park. They are staying put as parking. As it stands now, that’s 180 parking spaces available to the residents of The Lofts. 

If the 48 Dedicated Parking Spaces Can Be Used by Residents of The Lofts, Why Can’t We Reduce the 131 Required by That Amount?

Here’s the confusing part. Those 48 spaces are part of the 3.2 acres in the referendum. They are clearly demarcated on the site plan as being part of The Lofts project. On one of the drawings there’s even a driveway cut through. So why can’t The Lofts at Bahama Village partnership ask the City to reduce the 131 surface parking spaces taking up so much space on the site plan by that amount? Well, it seems they’ve just raised the question with the City. Good for them. Now the onus will be on the City to help reduce the required parking. Let’s continue with additional reasons why the City should do so…

Public Parking in the City’s Fort Street Lot sits adjacent or just below the green lot that will become buildings A and B of The Lofts. Note the crescent shaped parking lot at the top of the picture is already part of the 3.2 project.

44 Additional Overflow Parking Spaces in the Fort Street Lot

When the 44-unit Roosevelt C. Sands, Jr. affordable housing complex was built by the City’s Housing Authority, some people were afraid of too many cars by the new residents overwhelming the neighborhood. There are about 38 parking spaces internal to the Roosevelt Sands complex. So, the City built the 44-space overflow Fort Street Lot directly across the street. While this lot is not for the exclusive use of Roosevelt Sands residents, it is right across the street and is considered open parking for anyone. A good analogy is these spaces are treated by City Parking Enforcement staff like the non-marked spaces throughout the historic district, or throughout the City for that matter. They can be used by anyone, without moving your vehicle for up to 72 hours or 3 days at a time. 

On Tuesday, February 1 we walked the lot at noon and 22 of the 44 spaces were empty. At 9 pm that same night 15 of the spots were empty. However, in the evening there were 6 “Community Services” vehicles parked there, so perhaps the real number was 21 empty spots as the City trucks could have been parked elsewhere.

This Fort Street Lot is also directly across the street from The Lofts and open to anyone to use, so…

Examples of Other Downtown Parking Usage

Of the 3 housing complexes we discuss below, one has one parking space for every four units. The two others have nearly the one to one required by Code, but we’ve observed many of these going unused. I can think of many examples of downtown condos, I live in one, where no parking is provided on the site. In fact, we don’t own a car and none of my seven neighbors in this building do either. 

1 – A.H. Monroe’s Marty’s Place Has 16 Parking Spaces for 47 Units

A.H. Monroe built and continues to manage Marty’s Place at 1515 Bertha Street. It opened in 2020 for “low-income residents needing some level of support services.” There are 47 units and just 16 parking spaces. At the time Mr. Pridgen said of neighborhood traffic and parking concerns: 

“We really try to be good neighbors and are very aware of the concerns. This particular demographic of residents doesn’t typically own vehicles, but rather scooters and bicycles, so we don’t anticipate parking being too much of an issue, but we will absolutely work with the neighbors to resolve any issues.” 

When we asked about this Scott told us: 

“Marty’s Place isn’t workforce housing it is low-income and special needs housing which the LDR for special needs housing has a ratio of 1 to 4 – one parking space for every four units.”

To date we haven’t heard of any issues that have cropped up from the lack of parking there, as the homes are close to downtown. We get that The Lofts will have a different demographic but when a 1 to 4 ratio works for one project how do you justify a 1.5 to 1 ratio at The Lofts?

2 – Roosevelt C. Sands, Jr. Housing Complex

Right across the street from the Lofts is the Key West Housing Authority’s Roosevelt C. Sands, Jr. Affordable Housing Complex at 911 – 915 Fort Street, 105 – 119 Truman Avenue, and 920 – 924 Emma Street. They have 44 units and 38 parking spaces internal to the site. There are also many Residential Permit Only parking spaces on the surrounding streets.

On Tuesday, February 1 at 12 noon, we walked the 38 spaces and found that 18 of them were empty. Later that night at 9:00 pm, we found 16 empty spaces. That’s 42% of the spaces not used. Just to be conservative, cut that in half or make it 20%. That’s still quite a reduction. Right across the street is the overflow Fort Street Lot, also half empty. We’ll note that at the same time there was only one car in the 18-space Frederick Douglas Gym lot at noon and none at 9 pm and plenty of open Resident Permit Only spaces that were also unused at noon and at night.

3 – Douglas Square Apartments

Also across the street from The Lofts is the Douglas Square Apartments at 800 Emma Street. The have 50 units and 54 car parking spaces. 

On Tuesday, February 1 at 12 noon 35 of the 54 spaces were empty. Later that night at 9 pm 16 of those spaces were empty. That’s about 30% of the parking spaces not being used. For the sake of argument say half of those not seen with cars were parked. That’s still 15%. Douglas Square is very close to the Fort Street Lot too.

4 – Add It All Up and There’s Already a Ton of Parking Within a Block or So of The Lofts. That and the Trend for Downtowns Across America is to Build Less Or Even No Parking for New Projects – So Why Are We Building 132 or 180 or 189?

Within just a block or so of The Lofts there’s:

  • Dozens of curbside Resident Permit Parking on the streets
  • 38 surface parking spaces at Roosevelt Sands
  • 54 surface parking spaces at Douglas Apartments
  • 44 surface parking spaces at the City’s Fort Street Lot
  • 18 surface parking spaces at the Douglas Gym
  • 187 +30 surface parking spaces at Truman Waterfront Park (doesn’t include overflow areas)
  • 132 surface parking spaces proposed at The Lofts (the 48 in the crescent are part of the 187)

That’s over 500 surface parking spaces in properties abutting or including The Lofts. We’re not even counting the hundreds of surface parking spaces inside the gates of the Truman Annex. THAT’S a lot of paved over land in the heart of our downtown historic district given over to cars. All the while across the U.S.A. cities are now allowing developers to build less or even no parking in walk-friendly downtowns. Check out a few stories here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

“Environmentally Green Project” Aims to “Incentivize Residents Without Cars”

When asked if the Lofts project would increase traffic in Bahama Village here’s how the project’s sponsor answers on their website:

“The current proposal is to open Fort Street to Angela for pedestrians and bikes ONLY. The Lofts will not be a “shortcut” to anything. The traffic pattern of the site is self-contained within the site, meaning NO through traffic. While the City Planning Department will require a specific number of parking spaces, based upon the total number of units, this environmentally green project suggests one car space per-unit. Incentivizing residents without cars is another means to reduce traffic.”

To call a project “green” when nearly half the surface of the project is slated to be paved over for parking cars, well it’s stretch. We also haven’t seen any evidence to date of “incentivizing residents without cars” but remain hopeful. Speaking of which…

Downtown Housing Makes It Easier to Bike, Walk and Use Transit to Get Around

Downtown is small and flat. Most of our jobs and attractions are here. From The Lofts it is 7 blocks to Fausto’s grocery store on Fleming, 5 blocks to CVS on Truman and 5 blocks to Walgreens on Duval. Life for residents of the Lofts will be within walking distance and certainly pedal distance. That and the Duval Loop bus and its 20-30 minute free and frequent service stop right at the Lofts front door connecting residents to all downtown seven days a week, early morning to late at night. Residents of The Lofts, like many of us who live downtown, don’t need a car to get around. 

The free and frequent Duval Loop stop #7 is adjacent to The Lofts on Angela Street just next to Building C and the crescent lot.

Not Being Car Dependent Can Bring Livability Costs Down Even Further – So Why Is the City Requiring Free Parking for Everyone and Incentivizing Car Ownership?

The American Automobile Association (AAA) says that the average cost of owning and maintaining an automobile is nearly $10,000 annually. For most people, after housing, transportation is their second biggest expense. For some, especially in car-dependent places, it is the biggest expense. We go into detail about this in our May 14, 2021 article How Better Transit and Bicycle Facilities Can Help Address Affordable Housing.

So, encouraging people to go car-free is a good thing. But rather than encourage people to do this and bring down overall livability costs, by providing a FREE surface parking space to every household, the project is incentivizing the owning of cars versus promoting walking, bicycling and transit. Policy leaders should know better.

City Code Allows for Reductions in Minimum Parking Requirements – So ask!

Projects downtown routinely ask for and are granted parking reductions. So why not ask for a meaningful reduction? How much more could we reduce that one-to-one required ratio with a little research?

According to the U.S. Census American Community Survey in 2019, 11.5 percent of Key West households had zero (0) vehicles. We don’t have smaller Census tract numbers but will guess the number is even lower downtown. Let’s be conservative and use the overall Key West number and ask for an 11% reduction in parking. Doing so you’d reduce the amount by 13 parking spaces.

Census Vehicles Available Reduction: 131 “required” (126 + 5 for ADA) down to 118 (112 + 5 ADA) 

The project planners talk about “incentivizing” residents not to own cars. They could do things like provide electric hookups for e-bike and e-scooters. They could provide covered and/or secure bike parking. How about a bus shelter with real-time bus arrival information and maybe even solar-powered air conditioning too? Maybe the property could start a carsharing service like Zipcar. Let’s say The Lofts Partnership provides these amenities or incentives for using bikes, scooters, and transit. Further let’s say that rather than put all the bicycle parking for the project on Allen Street, like is now proposed, they mix the bicycle parking and e-charging near each front door, treating people who bike with the most convenient parking. Let’s say that’s another 10 percent reduction. That’s another 11 spaces.

Bike/Walk/Transit Reduction: 131 “required (126 + 5 ADA) down to 107 (101 + 5 ADA)

Now, based upon the use of parking by residents of nearby Douglas Square Apartments and Roosevelt C. Sands Jr complexes, which seem to end up a less than one to one – our conservative numbers ranged from 15 to 20% non-used used and we take just another 8 percent reduction. That’s another 8 less spaces.

Similar Housing Reduction: 131 “required” (126 + 5 ADA) down to 98 (93 + 5 ADA)

The Big Land Savings Comes from Shared Parking

So even if we’ve reduced the parking from 131 to 98 spaces, that’s just a 25 percent overall reduction. The big land savings comes from being able to count the 48 spaces in the crescent, available to residents of The Lofts as part of the 98 spaces. Doing so means that instead of building, as now proposed, 132 surface car parking spaces, hugging the buildings, now you just need to build an additional 50 parking spaces.

What could be done with THAT additional land? Trees? Picnic tables? Fire pits and grills? Playground? Bocce court? Art? None of which could currently fit on the site because, well parking. Ask the residents perhaps? Going from 132 to 50 around the buildings certainly opens the possibility of a much better looking and functioning home for residents.

Shared Parking is all the rage across urban America. It needs to be better utilized right here between the residents in Bahama Village and the Truman Waterfront Park. 

Truman Waterfront Park has 187 designated car parking spaces. These are little utilized, even during the day. There are also at least 15 additional designated parking spaces on the Kermit Shine Soccer Field building site and another 15+ outside the site on the gravel. That’s 30 on top of the 187. On Tuesday when we counted cars at the Fort Street Lot, Roosevelt Sands and Douglas Square there we less than 30 of the 187 parking spaces used in the middle of the day at 12 noon in Truman Waterfront Park. The crescent parking is so little utilized that it is currently blocked off.  At night no one is parking at the park so why not residents who live nearby? And during peak events at the park, if some of the 48 parking spaces are utilized by Lofts residents, park users can be accommodated by not just the rest of the 187 spaces but also the  extra wide bike lanes leading to Fort Zach and even some of the grassy areas that can be used. Finding a parking space will only be a problem, at most a few times a year.

Just saying. If a small 2 bedroom apartment is similar in size to a couple parking spaces, what could we do if we reduced the required parking at this site? More units? Amenities on green space for the residents or both? It’s a choice and we shouldn’t choose cars.

Could We Add More Units?

We made the case that affordable workforce housing being put downtown is a good thing. So, if we free up all that additional land, could we put another small building with additional units in it? Especially if we do a height waiver? What is so sacrosanct about the building height anyway? We’ve all agreed that more workforce housing is needed. If we’re going to the trouble of building it, the additional cost per unit goes down as we add more units to the property rather than start from scratch somewhere else? Yes, we realize there are development codes. But come on man, let’s do the right thing here.

Note that at the 280-Unit Wreckers Cay workforce housing on Stock Island they are putting parking underneath the buildings. So why not downtown?

Tangent – Why Surface and Not Structured Parking Downtown? Why Suburban, Garden Style?

If we had our druthers, we’d give the project a height waiver and ask the developer to build the 50 additional required car parking spaces under the housing. This would also have the added benefit of putting bicycle parking under cover too. Imagine what this property could look like without any surface parking. It might actually look like an urban building and not a garden-style apartment usually found in the suburbs. It’s a national historic district for goodness sakes. What are we thinking?

Think Differently. Get a Better Home for Residents of The Lofts and a Better Neighbor for Downtown

We get why the partnership has initially proposed what they proposed. Scott Pridgen and his A.H. Monroe team and The Lofts partnership are the good guys! We feel for them. It is the City and its antiquated mainland style development codes that are driving a project, surrounded by parking, that looks like it would be more at home in Fort Lauderdale than Key West. BUT ITS NOT TOO LATE!

Now that the referendum has passed this project will proceed through the usual planning process. But we can’t let the usual process lead to the same old same old that’s been initially proposed. We need Key West leaders at Planning Commission, HARC and the City Commission to step up and say we can do better by our people and our future than this. Let’s get creative and get this done. Everyone will win.

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You can find the 50+ 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.

Streets for People / Here’s the Real Lowdown on the Do’s and Don’ts for E-Bikes and E-Scooters in Key West

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on January 28, 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. 

If there’s one thing people on the island of Key West love to complain about more than bicycles – “They never use stop signs!” “They go the wrong way on one-way streets!” “They don’t follow the traffic laws!” “They don’t have lights!” – it’s e-bikes and e-scooters (the stand-up kind). There’s a great gnashing of teeth as people proclaim, “They were going so fast they almost knocked me down!” “They shouldn’t be allowed on the sidewalk!” “They shouldn’t be allowed on the promenade because they go too fast and are going to kill somebody!” “Ban them!” “Don’t allow tourists to rent them!” And on and on.

Here’s the thing. E-bikes and e-scooters are here to stay. Recent technology advances make these easier than ever to produce and prices are coming down, making them a real option for everyone. But we admit that these faster moving e-vehicles pose more dangers than the typical conch cruiser bicycle going 9 miles per hour. So, to help everyone out we’ve done a little research and talked to everyone’s favorite “Bike Guy” or City Transportation Coordinator, Ryan Stachurski, to bring you the actual do’s and don’ts of everything to do with e-bikes and e-scooters. Let’s dig in!

Yes, e-bikes and e-scooters are a good thing for Key West! Click on graphic to enlarge.

A Quick, Efficient, Non-Sweaty Alternative to Driving Is Good for Our Island

First things first. E-bikes and e-scooters are a quick, efficient, less costly, and non-sweaty alternative to driving. One of the many butwhataboutisms we hear from folks when we promote better bicycling is “Well not everyone can ride bikes – it’s too much effort!” “I have to work and can’t arrive sweaty!” “Bikes are too slow!” Well, e-bikes and e-scooters solve those problems. E-vehicles are especially cost-saving for our working class who can barely afford rent, let alone the additional expense of a car. And we all know one of the top complaints on the island is traffic and parking congestion, so people using these e-vehicles means less competition for those who drive. In the end e-things are good for our little island because it means people are using a road efficient, non-polluting mode of transportation who otherwise might be driving a car. Here’s what the City’s Transportation Coordinator says:

“Lawfully commuting by e-bike or motorized scooter is great for our community in terms of reduced traffic congestion, pollution, and noise. They’re more affordable than cars and easier to park, and that’s certainly part of the reason we’re seeing more and more of them around town.” 

Our local WeCycle bike shop on Stock Island has been selling and servicing e-bikes for years. I stopped in and talked to Manager Jesus Avril and he told me they sell a lot of e-bikes to locals. They usually only have a few on the floor because they sell so fast. Jesus tells me locals buy them for a quick form of transportation as an alternative to more expensive cars. On their floor they had a $1,400 and $1,600 model pictured here. Island Bicycles on Truman also now sells e-bikes.

Summary: 6 Do’s and Don’ts for E-Vehicles in Key West

Based on the new rules put into the Key West Code last summer here are six quick do’s and don’ts:

  1. Bicycles MAY ride on sidewalks but must YIELD right-of-way to pedestrians.
  2. E-vehicles may NOT ride on sidewalks.
  3. E-powered ADA mobility devices MAY ride on sidewalks.
  4. E-vehicles MAY ride on multi-use paths, that include the promenades.
  5. E-vehicles may NOT go faster than 15 mph on multi-use paths.
  6. E-vehicles/ADA mobility devices must YIELD right-of-way to pedestrians.

So, let’s see how we got these new rules and then get to the specific language of the law and comments from our Transportation Coordinator. If you want to get straight to the specifics of the rules, skip the next section.

Background On How We Got These New Regulations – Mayor Johnston and Commissioner Kaufman Take the Lead

Fearing a deluge of stand-up e-scooters like other cities were experiencing, in February 2020 the City Commission put a 180-day moratorium on new companies coming in and renting motorized or non-motorized vehicles. They were specifically worried about these vehicles on our sidewalks. The moratorium was said to be needed to review data on traffic safety and capacity as they figured out what to do. 

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, including sidewalks. Remember this for later. But 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 an effort to update the City’s own ordinance to comply with the new State rules and make our sidewalks safer. At their October 2020 meeting they extended the moratorium by another 180 days or longer to provide time for a new ordinance to take effect. 

E-scooters on Lazy Way by the Seaport.

At the City Commission’s final meeting of the year on December 2, 2020, City Attorney Shawn Smith let everyone know that since the draft ordinance was put on his plate as part of his annual goals for the year, he was presenting them a draft, codifying the new State rules in the City ordinance, thereby meeting his goal. However, his draft did nothing to address safety on the sidewalks or streets. It simply permitted e-bikes and e-scooters on sidewalks, like bicycles. FAIL. This was the Mayor’s response at the meeting:

“The ordinance essentially says open the city’s streets and sidewalks to e-vehicles and let them come in. I had great concern about that because we have no data on sidewalk safety, on where these vehicles go, how we control them, how we monitor them. Because of our lack of bicycles lanes, we have shoved everything onto our sidewalks which, I think we can all agree that they’ve become very dangerous…. We’ve got small sidewalks. We’ve got busy sidewalks. And we’re trying to put one more form of transportation on them. We need to know how to do that safely.”

Mayor Johnston was rightfully unsatisfied. She asked for some data on potential conflicts between e-vehicles and pedestrians and wanted safety recommendations, including how to ban these vehicles from sidewalks, as part of the package. Commissioner Sam Kaufman suggested the City’s then Transportation Coordinator Tim Staub be given more sway in the final recommendations. 

Mr. Staub got some quick pedestrian and bicycle counts on local paths and researched options for regulating different classes of vehicles on the sidewalks. It was easy enough to use the new State law and simply insert language in the City ordinance banning e-bikes and e-scooters from sidewalks that aren’t part of a multi-use path. Multi-use paths include the Promenades on North and South Roosevelt, and the designated paths on Bertha Street, Atlantic Boulevard and Palm Avenue. The e-vehicles, by State statute, can’t be banned from the multi-use paths. However, e-vehicles can be limited to a certain speed, and that’s exactly what the new ordinance does, setting the speed limit at 15 mph, when these vehicles typically travel at 20 mph and above.

The City Attorney’s Office worked with Mr. Staub to address the Mayor’s and Commissioner Kaufman’s ideas and concerns and got something positive done. At Mr. Kaufman’s urging the new ordinance provides exceptions to e-vehicles on sidewalks for children and persons with disabilities. Said Commissioner Kaufman:

“We all want our sidewalks to remain safe for our residents and visitors alike. The increased use of electric bicycles and other electric motorized devices on sidewalks has created increased safety concerns. We also want to promote the safe operation with alternative means of transportation to reduce automobile traffic and parking congestion. We need policies that achieve a balanced approach on our island especially for areas with more narrow streets and sidewalks. These amendments promote the public’s health, safety, and welfare by conforming commercial rental vehicle regulations with Florida Statutes and providing additional safety precautions with the use and rental of electric bicycles and electric motorized devices.”

The new ordinance had its first reading on February 5, 2021 and it wasn’t until July 20, 2021 that final action was taken and it became the “Electric Bicycle, Motorized Scooters and Micromobility Devices” law. 

Oh, that moratorium on companies renting out new e-vehicles or gas-powered vehicles for that matter, is still in effect awaiting a “mobility study.” Frankly, we think the City should just let new companies rent e-vehicles. For example, the Lama e-scooters we covered in this story: We Need to Encourage Efforts Like the Proposed Lama Electric Scooter, August 6, 2021.

The New Rules as of July 1, 2021

What’s a Recreational Device as Defined in the Code?

We’ve been referring to these as e-bikes, e-scooters, and e-vehicles throughout our story. In the Key West Code these are also defined as “recreational devices.”

Sec. 70-901. – Definitions.

Recreational devices shall mean electric bicycle, motorized scooter or other micromobility devices. This term shall not mean bicycles, mopeds or any self-propelled or motorized vehicles capable of exceeding 28 mph.”

So, while a “recreational device” DOES mean an e-bike or e-scooter it DOES NOT mean a regular non-motorized bike. Nor does it include the electric and gas-powered mopeds and vehicles capable of going 28 or more miles per hour. We’ve been referring to these as e-vehicles throughout our story.

Can E-Bikes and E-Scooters Ride on the Sidewalk?

No. E-bikes and e-scooters cannot ride on our sidewalks. Says Mr. Stachurski:

“For everyone generally, it required that we park our edevice in a proper location (never against a tree), never ride them on a sidewalk (unless designated as such or pursuant to ADA), and always yield to and alert passing of pedestrians.”

Says the City of Key West Municipal Code:

Sec. 70-902. – Device Use.

“(a) All public sidewalks and/or pedestrian pathways, shall be only available for use by pedestrians or non-motorized or non-electric bicycles unless said public sidewalk or pathway has been designated for multi-use and/or shared use as defined in Code of Ordinances 70-1.”

Can I Ride My Electric Mobility Device on the Sidewalk If It is for ADA Purposes?

Yes. Yes, you can. As Ryan said above, “unless designated as such or pursuant to ADA.” Says the code:

Sec. 70-902. – Device use.

“(a) (1) Notwithstanding the above provision, an individual utilizing a Recreational Device pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may operate those devices on any city street, multi-use/shared-use path or sidewalk, regardless of designation.”

Can Regular Bicycles Ride on the Sidewalks? How About on Duval Street?

Says our Transportation Coordinator:

Non-motorized bicycles are allowed on sidewalks unless otherwise posted, and must yield to pedestrians. Most of the time, and for most riders, it’s best to stay in the street. Although it’s not wise to ride a bike on the sidewalk along Duval (with doors swinging open and people trying to walk), I am not aware of a prohibition. I’ve heard that there’s a law, but I’ve never found it. Hopefully, someone can correct me!”

I’ll admit I use a small portion of the sidewalk to cut to the corner before getting on to the street because our street is one-way. But I only do it for a quarter of a block and only if I don’t see any pedestrians. If people are really riding a bicycle on a sidewalk, it is likely because they are afraid to be in the road. Like on Truman or Eaton or especially on North Roosevelt. In these situations, it is on the City to design streets where people feel safe enough to bike. Until then though, it is incumbent upon the person on a bike to go slow and always yield the right-of-way to pedestrians.

A stand up e-scooter rides the Promenade on S. Roosevelt Boulevard.

Can E-Vehicles Ride on the Multi-Use Paths and Promenades that Look Like Sidewalks?

Yes. While e-vehicles cannot ride on our sidewalks, they can use all bike lanes and the multi-use paths that include the promenades on the island. Yes, it is confusing because the promenades of North and South Roosevelt Boulevards are cement and look like sidewalks, but they are designated by the State as Multi-Use Paths. Says the code:

Sec. 70-902. – Device Use

“(b) The riding and operating of recreational devices is permissible upon all multi-use and/or shared use paths a bicycle may legally travel, located on or within City of Key West limits,”

The multi-use or shared paths include the Promenade all the way around South Roosevelt Boulevard along Cow Key Channel and past the airport and Smathers Beach to Bertha Street. It also includes the newly paved path on Bertha Street to Atlantic Avenue and the recently paved and buffered path along Atlantic Avenue between Bertha Street and White Street. On the other side of the island, it includes the promenade adjacent to the water from the Triangle along North Roosevelt to Eisenhower Avenue where it becomes Truman Avenue. And it also includes Palm Avenue from North Roosevelt Boulevard to Eaton Street. Here’s a map:

How Fast Can E-Vehicles Travel on the Promenades and Multi-Use Paths?

The speed limit on the multi-use paths, that include the promenades, is 15 mph. Says the code:

Sec. 70-902. – Device use.

“(b) (1) Recreational devices shall be restricted to a maximum speed of 15 miles per hour when operating on a public multi-use and/or shared path” 

What Are the Responsibilities of E-Vehicles on Multi-Use Paths?

We’ll go straight to the code for this one:

Sec.70-902. – Device use.

“(b) (2) A person operating a Recreational Device upon and along a sidewalk, sidewalk area, or across a roadway upon and along a crosswalk, has all the rights and duties applicable to a bicyclist under the same circumstances, and shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian and shall give an audible signal before overtaking and passing such pedestrian.”

In other words, not only are e-bikes and e-scooters limited to 15 m.p.h., but they must yield to slower moving pedestrians and bicycles and give them an audible warning, such as “On your left” or even “beep beep” when passing.

Are There Any Rules About E-Vehicles in the Bike Lanes?

Here we are talking about the painted bike lanes you see on Southard, Fleming, White, Reynolds and other places around town. Not, the multi-use paths. When we asked Ryan if the bike lanes were considered part of the street – and thus not limited to the 15 mph on multi-use paths he answered:

“Correct, painted bike lanes are considered part of the street. Florida Statute provides:

316.20655(7) An operator may ride an electric bicycle where bicycles are allowed, including, but not limited to, streets, highways, roadways, shoulders, bicycle lanes, and bicycle or multiuse paths.

To my knowledge, there aren’t any City Ordinances that would limit bike lane riding by e-vehicles, only sidewalk riding. They are, of course, regulated by the regular speed limit.”

What Are the Responsibilities of Rental Companies to Educate E-Riders?

Glad you asked. The City’s Transportation Coordinator answers:

“There are only a handful of e-bikes currently licensed in the city as recreational rental vehicles. Businesses that rent these vehicles must post a sign warning of dangeroffer a helmet, and teach the user that they’re not allowed on sidewalks. Each vehicle needs to display a license which is verified by code compliance staff. Chances are that if you see someone on an e-bike, it’s not a rental, it’s your neighbor out on a ride or heading to work. 

Summary: 6 Do’s and Don’ts for E-Vehicles in Key West

  • 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.
Perhaps the City of Key West can develop some simple graphics that illustrate the do’s and don’ts like other cities.

While Our Sidewalks and Paths Are Safer, Our Streets Could Use More Work

Good on the City of Key West for writing new legislation that make things safer by keeping e-vehicles off our sidewalks and regulating their speed on multi-use paths to no more than 15 miles per hour. And for making sure that companies renting to visitors educate these new riders to our island of the rules. In one of our most popular stories last year, PeopleforBikes Ranks Key West 39th Best City for Bicycles, June 11, 2021 we learned from local leaders and the data that Key West’s high rank was because we were warm, flat and compact – so lots of people, including visitors, ride bikes. Not because of any great bicycle infrastructure we have. 

If people feel compelled to use bikes, e-bikes, or e-scooters on our already crowded sidewalks, it is because they don’t feel safe in the street. If people don’t use these devices at all, it is also often because they don’t feel safe doing so. The lesson here is that rules, even if backed up with adequate enforcement, are NOT enough. Safety is more about street design than any other single thing. Our streets are mostly designed to mainland Florida standards that accommodate car convenience and parking over bicycling and pedestrians. We need more and better bike lanes, protected bike lanes, bike boxes, paths, trails, signage, bike parking and more. Much of this is in our Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan. We just need to follow it more quickly and earnestly. It will help make our little island paradise more green, healthy, and prosperous.

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You can find the 50 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.

Streets for People / Time to Reimagine Car-Centric, Mainland Style Searstown and Kmart into Island-Friendly Centers with Housing

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on January 21, 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. 

We know how to make mainland visitors feel welcome don’t we? Driving into Key West along N. Roosevelt Boulevard they must feel right at home. Four big, wide-open, fast-moving lanes of traffic and a middle turn lane. Huge signs announcing McDonalds, Chevrolet, I-Hop, Wendy’s, Sears, Dunkin, Pizza Hut, Home Depot, Five Guys, Kmart, Denny’s and more. Acres of parking lots fronting retail that’s a football field length away from the road, necessitates even more signs to coax you inside. Why it looks and functions like anywhere on U.S. Route 1 on Florida’s East Coast and U.S. 41 on Florida’s West Coast. Or just about anywhere in mainland Florida. Save for the ubiquitous FDOT palm trees along the water lining the Promenade, a first timer might not realize they’ve arrived in Paradise. 

The announcement last week that Kmart is closing in March and Publix has bought the entire Searstown Plaza give Key West an opportunity remake these car-dependent retail strip malls into denser, mixed-used centers that can include housing and better accommodate bikes and transit. Just because these properties are currently configured as bygone era strip shopping doesn’t mean they have to stay that way. But to change them we may need to provide the property owners some carrots in the form of bonus density, parking variances and height waivers to get what we want. Done right, perhaps we can make these shopping strips less like the mainland and more like the island paradise we love while making another dent in our lack of affordable and workforce housing.

An example of housing on top of retail uses.

We Need More Affordable Housing on the Island of Key West

The number one issue on our island is affordable or workforce housing. Yes, the approximately 126 units at the Lofts in Bahama Village at Truman Waterfront is a nice start. But most of the affordable/workforce housing in the pipeline is beyond Cow Key Bridge. There’s 208 new units at the Quarry on Big Coppitt and under construction on Stock Island there are 280 units at Wreckers Cay and 104 units on College Road. We need affordable workforce housing on THIS island because it enables residents to walk, bike and transit to get around and brings overall affordability for their residents’ down. That and keeping housing on our island is good for our local businesses too.

When recently asked about the Mallory Square, Diesel Plant and Duval Street planning projects, Paul Menta of First Legal Rum and Distillery and head of the Shop Mom and Pop Key West group said:

“Without local housing it doesn’t matter what Duval Street and Mallory Square looks like. There’s going to be nobody to clean it and nobody to cook. We face extreme staffing shortages right now. The problem I see is everybody is working to the max, which means eventually, customer service is going to start to fade because people are going to become very frustrated as they’re burned out and overworked trying to compensate for the lack of staff and employees. We need to direct all our focus to figuring out how we can get people in housing. Possible grants or incentives for people to rent to workers in Key West are options. And when we build there is a lot of space available that we haven’t even fully looked at, from the Navy and everywhere else. This has to be taken care of as our present dictates what our future is actually going to be and look like.”

Paul’s right in saying nothing else matters if we don’t first get more affordable housing. He is in line with the results from the Strategic Plan which says affordable housing is our number one priority. It identifies “initiating a dialogue with shopping center owners” and the military in addition to owners of the Poinciana property, Porter Place/School Board site, and Harris School as places for homes. 

With Kmart closing and Publix just having announced their acquisition of the entire Searsontown complex, NOW is the time to initiate discussions about folding in new housing.

The End of Big Box in Key West is Part of a Larger Trend in Retail Reshuffling

Last week in the Citizen and Keys Weekly we learned that our local Kmart is closing in March. Sears closed in August 2020 and has remained empty. Last week the Keys Weekly also broke the story (and the Citizen just reported) that the entire Searstown complex was bought by the Publix Corporation. Neither paper could get any information on Publix’ future plans for the property valued at over $26 million.

What’s happening here, isn’t isolated to Key West. Retail has undergone a great reshuffling over the last decade or so as the popularity of big box stores and malls surrounded by a sea of parking have waned in the face of e-commerce. Especially in urban areas. Covid has exacerbated the trend forcing many of the best-known brands to either close shop altogether like Sears and Kmart, consolidate like Bed, Bath and Beyond or seriously enter the online delivery business like Walmart. 

A rendering of a Target in Tenlytown, D.C., where the store fronts the street and there’s housing on top.

From Big Box Retail Surrounded by a Sea of Parking to Smaller Big Box Stores as the Nucleus of Urban Centers

Another trend that’s been taking place for a while now is to place these stores in urban “centers” as the magnet for mixed-used developments that include smaller retail footprints than the same stores would have in strip malls, and the inclusion of office space and housing. In connecting retail to living and work, where some customers are already on site, the trend includes a need for less surface parking and/or building parking under multi-story complexes. The best of these new developments aren’t as car-dependent and make it easy to get to by transit and bicycling.

There are a lot of examples of this kind of development. Think of the places you’ve visited. When I lived in Washington, D.C. next to my job site in Arlington there were downtown centers like Clarendon Crossing that included Crate & Barrel, Whole Foods, Ethan Allen, twenty smaller stores, office space, condos and town homes. The Columbia Heights DC USA complex near my home included one of the first urban Targets, Best Buy, Bed Bath & Beyond and much more all in multi-story buildings with parking garages tucked away and housing next door. 

This is just part of the Clarendon Crossing center described above that I use to work next door to.

We Have to End Key West Parking Minimums for Retail and Other Uses

At 4.2 square miles, land in Key West is at a premium. We have no more open space to build on. So, in a small, urban area like ours, using all this land for mainland style, suburban surface parking is a colossal waste of space. The first thing we need to do is ditch the parking minimums, tied to suburban standards on the mainland, our zoning code requires of various uses. Freed from having to supply a certain amount of parking spaces, like one parking space per 45 sq. ft of restaurant space, one parking space per 300 sq. ft of retail, one parking space per hotel room, and one parking space per dwelling unit inside the historic district and two (2) parking spaces outside the historic district, the Key West code requires, an owner/developer is then free to use the space saved on other uses, like housing.

Here’s an example or two of what we’re talking about. I found this graphic that depicts a 2,500 sq. ft. 90 seat restaurant requiring 20 parking spaces. This is what it looks like spatially. The parking takes up twice the space of the restaurant. Key West requires one parking space per 45 sq. ft. of serving area. So being conservative, say just half of the 2,500 sq. ft. restaurant below is serving/consumption area. 1,25 sq. ft. divided by 45 = 28 parking spaces. Even more than the example here. Does this make any sense at all?

Current Key West code for this retail restaurant would require MORE parking than depicted here.

Now multiply this by all the retail uses in any of the N. Roosevelt Boulevard strip shopping centers and you begin to understand why we have seas of parking surrounding retail on the island. We tend to require the parking to accommodate the maximum number of vehicles that might show up on Black Friday in car dependent places. 

Look at this from another perspective. Living space vs. parking space. It takes roughly the same amount of land to accommodate a small 2-bedroom condo as it does to park two cars. Two cars. On an island where we lack affordable housing, it makes the trade-off even more stark. 

What’s more important to us? Land for affordable housing or ever more parking convenience? The choice is ours.

So, for starters we need to agree not to require any minimum amounts of parking on these properties and we should provide incentives to put the parking in structures below other uses. That may mean granting variances on density and height restrictions too.

Publix Gets in On the Mixed-Use, Urban Center Trend

With the news that Publix bought the entire Searstown property we did a quick Google search to see if the growing Southern supermarket chain does more than just build grocery stores in strip malls. Low and behold we found they do. Just in 2021 Publix announced it is opening a new downtown Tampa store as part of a 325-unit residential complex. In Atlanta’s West Midtown they are part of a 9-acre mixed-use complex that includes their 42,00 sq. ft store, 200,000 sq. ft. of office space, 105,000 sq. ft. of retail, 349 apartments, 18 townhomes and a 161-room hotel. In Miami Publix is part of a mixed-use development in West River with 325 apartments. In Raleigh, NC Publix is part of a mixed-use development that includes their 45,600 sq. ft. store, another 50,000 sq. ft. of retail and 417 apartments. That was just from the first page of our Google search.

Having Our Cake and Eating It Too

It is good for Key West that Publix does these kinds of developments. Other retailers from Target to Whole Foods do too. So, asking them to do something different won’t be a stretch – but we have to make it easy for them to do – and our current zoning code does not make it easy – see parking minimums. As Sears and Kmart have closed, many people have taken to social media yearning for another big retailer as a replacement. Walmart, Target, Whole Foods, Trader Joes, BJ’s, Best Buy, Costco and many more have all been mentioned. Not that we really need these places, nor is it likely they’d come to such a small demographic footprint, but just for the sake of argument, having another big retailer doesn’t mean we have to have it in a mainland style strip mall. We could theoretically have a new Target that includes affordable housing all packaged in a more urban development with the buildings abutting the street and the parking underneath the mixes of housing and office uses.

This is the example from Victor Dover of the existing Kmart they were asked to reimagine.

I reached out to the amazing planning guru Victor Brandon Dover of Dover Kohl & Partners Town Planning who I follow on Twitter and he shared with me that redoing strip malls is fairly common and provided a couple of examples. The first is a little study his firm did for a beach town with a defunct Kmart. The illustrations below show how the strip mall above could be transformed into a mixed-use project. He also shared: “As for Publix buying Searstown, consider studying the precedent of Baldwin Park, which integrates a modern Publix with a real main street & mixed use, including civic, housing, offices, etc. Start here and zoom out: https://g.page/Bigote_BP?share.” If you go to the use, switch to the satellite view, and fly around the area. In a lot of ways, it is what could be done on N. Roosevelt Boulevard. 

Commissioners Hoover and Kaufman Already Out Front on These Issues

Last spring Commissioners Mary Lou Hoover and Sam Kaufman hosted meetings and a community survey on N. Roosevelt Boulevard. They sought input from property owners, business owners, residents, and visitors. They asked about increasing buffers between commercial and residential, incentivizing smaller and more inviting signage, placing parking behind commercial uses, and more. Here’s what they heard from the 770 people that responded to the survey, in order of importance:

  • 74%    Bike and pedestrian friendly designs
  • 71%    Increased landscaping, shade, and street trees
  • 51%    Increasing landscaped space between residential and commercial areas
  • 44%    High quality design and architectural standards for a Key West feel 
  • 37%    Mixed-use residential and commercial structures
  • 36%    Creating safe pedestrian paths in parking lots
  • 34%    Parking behind/Incorporated into structures

When asked “If our shopping plazas redeveloped to mixed-use plazas, what changes would you like to see?” the 759 respondents said:


In a Keys Weekly story on January 29, 2021 about a workshop on affordable housing an idea was mentioned about putting housing above shopping centers on North Roosevelt – Searstown, Key Plaza and Overseas Market. Commissioner Kaufman said: “Let’s meet with the shopping center owners. We’ve already heard that Publix is interested in building employee housing. And there looks to be a ton of space behind the Winn Dixie center.” Keys Weekly reported that other ideas included zoning changes that would increase density and/or height limits so more apartments can be added to existing neighborhoods.

When I asked Commissioner Hoover about her work on this issue and the news at Searstown and Kmart she said:

“I have continued to move forward with the revitalization of N. Roosevelt reviewing potential lighting, signage, and landscaping changes. I’ve been working with the developer who owns the Overseas Market shopping center, and he is in the process of redeveloping that center to include affordable housing. I’m also in contact with the leasing agent and property manager for the other two centers. I should know more about their plans in the near future. We’ve included FDOT in our meetings and are requesting priority for an ingress/egress study along the Boulevard. That study was also one of Key West’s priorities sent to the Florida Keys Transportation Coordination Committee (FKTCC) of which I’m a member. As for the Overseas Market affordable housing, or either of the other two plazas, they would have to apply for BPAS units like any other housing. I think this community is in the right frame of mind to back the building of more affordable housing, if it’s done with respect for the neighborhood.”

This is good news.

Time to Get Creative and Support Innovative Work

Mayor Johnston and Commissioner Kaufman reminded me that the Commission enacted legislation in 2019 that increased the current amount of housing that can be built in the General Commercial zone of these shopping centers from 16 residential units per acre to 40 units per acre if the units are affordable/workforce housing. That’s also good news. The Mayor also told me in reaction to the Searstown news: “I read Mandy’s story with great interest. In fact, I am meeting with some community members to discuss how we proactively attract the type of businesses that we want in Key West later this afternoon.” More good news.

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 housing, that exude Key West charm. The City will likely need to offer parking variances and height and density bonuses/waivers to the owners in order to get this done. Change is hard to come by but our community needs to wholeheartedly support the revisions needed to make it happen. 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.

# # #

You can find the nearly 50 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.

Streets for People / Mallory Sq., Diesel Plant, Duval Street and Bahama Village Housing Projects Create Synergy to Bolster Downtown

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on January 14, 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. 

After quick and expert work in putting out an RFP and selecting a vendor in the fall, the 3.2-acre Bahama Village affordable housing project referendum heads to voters Tuesday. Proposals are due from potential consultants for a Sunset Celebration/Mallory Square Master Plan February 2. After a couple false starts, the City Manager expects to release a new RFP for applicants to lease and renovate the old Diesel Plant buildings in February. And finally, after more than 2 years of delays, the Manager also tells us a Duval Street Revitalization RFQ will be released mid-February. While we’re disappointed Duval Revitalization has taken so long, perhaps the opportunity of Mallory Square, Diesel Plant and Duval Street processes happening in quick and overlapping succession will give us a synergy to coalesce community discussion and bolster our entire historic commercial district. Add in the new affordable housing and we’re hopeful for our downtown’s future. Let’s look at where we stand with each of these.

Duval Street Revitalization History

The history of Duval Street Revitalization has its roots as far back as Mayor Johnston’s first election in 2018 where she ran on a platform of revitalizing Duval Street. She came through by initiating the Mall on Duval pilot project in 2019 and the discussions with businesses and residents that grew from the on-again, off-again street closings in the 500, 600 and 700 blocks begat the release of a Duval Street Revitalization Plan RFQ on November 21, 2019 (RFQ). With the RFQ the City was to hire a consultant to work with the community on a vision and plan to renovate and revitalize our main street. 

Mall on Duval grand opening.

At the August 19, 2020, City Commission meeting a team of highly regarded consultants was selected. A contract was signed in November 2020. All was set for a project start and community meetings for the winter/spring of 2021 when the wheels came off. In our second most popular story of 2021Duval Street Revitalization Is Back on Track, October 1, 2021, we shared with our readers the two reasons Planning staff gave for the delay and switch. 1. The vendor’s contract was terminated when their project lead left the firm and 2. As the Planning Department secured a $500,000 Florida Department of Economic Opportunity grant to do the project (the City was paying itself previously), that meant following different procurement and contract rules and rewriting the RFQ. So back to square one, but with good reason.

In September Planning Director, Katie Halloran told us: “I think we can release within two weeks. If we give the RFQ eight weeks on the street, our Ranking Committee would have their rankings completed by December. We may get through City Commission and have our selected partner approved by January 2022.” It is January and the RFQ that was two weeks out in September hasn’t been released. It seems that a short-staffed Planning Department had to prioritize. Said the Planning Director on January 4:

“We are waiting to issue the Duval RFQ because we have released the Sunset Celebration/Mallory Square Master Plan RFQ and given limited staff resources we need to carefully time these projects. We will hold the mandatory pre-bid meeting for potential Sunset Celebration RFQ respondents this week.”

City Manager Patti McLauchlin followed up and said, “It is my desire to have the Duval Street Revitalization RFQ out by February 15.” Lots of people are rooting for this to be true.

An idea to generate discussion of a more people-friendly street where cars are welcome too.

Duval Street: Nicer to Look At, More Comfortable for People and Resilient in the Face of Climate Change

When the idea was first proposed here’s what Mayor Johnston said in 2019:

“We all love our main street and want to see it prosper and bring our community together. Mall on Duval brought locals downtown who haven’t been there in years, prompting a conversation about what improvements need to be made, including widening sidewalks – they range from 8 to 18 feet – and adding planters and benches. There are street designs that have the sidewalk on the same level, and you divide it off by concrete planters. The street can be cobblestone and the sidewalks can be different materials. We also need shade, benches and water fountains.”

In September 2021 the Planning Director said:

“The scope of work for the Duval RFQ includes mobility planning, civil engineering, historic preservation, landscape architecture, and public facilitation. One major goal of the plan is to revitalize the corridor in a way that promises additional resilience to climate related risks, particularly sea level rise. This may also include working with local businesses to assist with economic resilience. This revised RFQ ensures we are meeting our DEO grant requirements, and is more directly tied to resilience, in addition to revitalization (making the street even nicer to look at and more comfortable for pedestrians).” 

At the time Ms. Halloran said “the planning process itself shouldn’t take longer than 12-18 months once a consultant team is on board. This project must be guided by community input. Identifying the funding to actually construct the full length could take years and the construction process will definitely take years. This is not a short-term project.”

Indeed, this is a huge, long-term, and potentially transformative effort. We look forward to seeing the RFQ. Said Mayor Johnston this week:

“While I am anxious to get the Duval Street revitalization project moving, I want to make sure that the scope is right and that it fully addresses our sea level rise issues and funding opportunities. Our City Planning Director Katie Halloran has such incredible long-term vision for our community including the connectivity between Mallory Square, Clinton Square and our 3 unique environments of Duval Street, Petronia Street and our Diesel Plant. Her input into our Duval Street Revitalization project has been invaluable and will assure that our plan will address the needs of generations to come. We are enhancing our public spaces for our residents and guests alike so that we can continue to be a quality community and a world class destination.”

Ideas for improved seating, shade, lighting and landscaping from City’s community meetings.

Mallory Square an All-Day Anchor at One End of Duval

Mallory Square became a hot topic a year ago as the Monroe County Tourist Development Council (TDC) was about to give the City $168,000 for the installation of sunshades. “Since Mallory Square was converted in the early 1980’s from a parking lot to the plaza as it is known today, it has only received minimal upgrades, limited to security updates, brick seating, and landscaping here and there,” said the City at the time. The project would therefore be the first dramatic public improvement made since the early 1980’s. But rather than just install some shade structures, leaders thought now was the time to take a step back for a more comprehensive review. So, four community meetings were held with vendors, users and residents last March and April to gather opinions and ideas on how they envision Mallory Square. Questions were asked about shade, seating, landscaping, lighting, and sign options, as well as potential uses for the area.

An RFP was released on December 8 to find a consultant who will provide a Sunset Celebration/Mallory Square Master Plan. Submittals are due February 2, and the City Commission is expected to make a final selection in March. The desire is to attract visitors and locals beyond the couple hours of day it is used for sunset. The RFP says:

  • “The master plan shall be primarily associated with the square itself but shall include features to link together all eleven (11) adjacent City-owned parcels, which include historic buildings and structures.
  • The master plan will revitalize the square through the creation of a park-like environment surrounding the historic Hospitality House and Cable Huts, and an overall improved visitor experience through installation of landscaping, hardscape (seating, ground surface finishes), lighting, wayfinding (signage), and comfort features, including public restroom facilities and shade structures to ensure the space is inviting through the day and evening. It must also include the expansion of the Waterfront Theatre on its west elevation to allow for outdoor performances and access to the square from the rear of the historic structure. 
  • The master plan will include recommended improvement for access and circulation within and beyond the square to Zero Duval and Truman Waterfront Park through waterfront promenades and walkways. Central landscape and hardscape features must seamlessly incorporate and feature existing historic structures and sites, while allowing for increased reuse of the square and Port services associated with the T-Pier. 
  • The vendor must endeavor to integrate designs with the city-initiated Duval Revitalization and Resiliency Plan.”

The last bullet is important as it signals none of these planning efforts will occur in a vacuum but rather, they will be coordinated, and build off each other.

Architectural rendering of renovated Diesel Plant from the Rams Head group proposal.

Diesel Plant as Another Historic Anchor for Downtown

The former Keys Energy diesel plant, a complex of five decaying buildings in Bahama Village near the entrance to the Truman Waterfront was built in the 1880’s. Keys Energy owned it and ceased operations in the 1970’s but did nothing with the property, letting the buildings deteriorate. They gave it to the City for free in 2016. In February 2019, in response to an RFP, the Key West Art and Historical Society (KWHAS) won a bid from the City to stabilize and redevelop the buildings as a multi-use cultural facility, with an interactive museum, restaurant, microbrewery and mixed-use/gallery space. Michael Guida, KWAHS Executive Director said, “The Society’s objective is to create a greater sense of place, historical understanding, civic pride and community ownership while preserving the property.”

However, negotiations for a contract dragged on as KWAHS wanted a longer lease to justify their investment. Enter COVID-19 and KWAHS hit pause on the project to concentrate on keeping their existing properties afloat. When KWAHS asked last January for another long pause to regroup, then City Manager Greg Veliz withdrew the contract offer saying he didn’t want a repeat of the recently failed Joe Walsh restaurant on Mallory Square fiasco that kept getting delayed. So back to square one.

Then at the August 17 Commission Meeting the Rams Head group provided a very nicely done, unsolicited proposal to redevelop the Diesel Plant saying “Our goal in the redevelopment of this property is to create a multi-cultural facility that engages the community and promotes tourism continuing on the vision of the Key West Art & Historical Society. Our past experience, resources and financial stability allow us the vision in seeing the greater benefit this can provide Key West.” They proposed a microbrewery, multi-use flex space, walking museum, outdoor courtyard & playground, culinary & brewing programs and a coffee shop. 

The presentation was so impactful that Commissioner Lopez sponsored a resolution at the November 16 meeting to accept the proposal. He and Commissioner Weekley voted yes, and the other five voted no. All seven then voted to direct the City Manager to put out a new RFP for potential applicants to lease and undertake remediation and repair of the facility. 

Hopefully multiple companies, including the Rams Head group, submit some great proposals and we finally get this project back on track. 

Proposed Lofts affordable homes in Bahama Village.

New Affordable Housing in Bahama Village

Last week in our story 3 Reasons You May Not Have Thought of for Voting YES on 3.2 on January 18 we made the case that this approximately 126-unit project does way more than provide much needed affordable homes for long-time residents of Bahama Village. Two of those reasons directly relate to the adjacent business community. 

1 – More locals’ living downtown is good for nearby business. It means 300 more people that can shop at grocery stores, hair salons, coffee shops, bodegas, and convenience stores. And it creates a more local focused, less touristy vibe and that’s good for our historic business district.

2 – Housing downtown makes it easier to bike, walk and use transit to get around. So because the new residents are so close to everything, they won’t add to traffic and parking congestion downtown. Rather they’ll add to the pedestrian ambiance.

Paul Menta of Key West First Legal Rum Distillery and head of the Shop Mom and Pop Key West group summed it up best when he said:

“Keeping locals living locally in Key West has many advantages such as it keeps the local economy going as they buy at Mom-and-Pop type places, they have options to bike or bus to work, which takes the stress away of driving and parking, and they add to the ambiance of Key West by having locals walking around with tourists. Sounds funny but when you travel you want to shop and eat where the locals are!”

But we shouldn’t be satisfied with this one project. One of the best things we can do to help business and downtown is locate more affordable housing there, instead of up the Keys. We’re sure to discuss this in upcoming articles.

Revitalized Mallory Square, Diesel Plant and Duval Street + More Residents = a Better Downtown

We’ve been grappling in fits and starts with Mallory Square, Diesel Plant, Duval Street and Bahama Village projects for years. The recent history of each is strewn with false promises, hopeful beginnings, and dashed dreams. And yet now all four of these projects are coming to a head at the same time. That’s a good thing because they are all so interrelated and shouldn’t each be done in a separate vacuum. The opportunity is for the businesses and residents to view and discuss our downtown as a whole living organism rather than disparate parts. And that can only mean a better overall outcome for each project.

Picture it. The year 2024. A newly refurbished with shade and seating Mallory Square is full of life for more than two hours a day. The nearby Diesel Plant is bustling with visitors and locals who live at the nearby Lofts affordable homes in Bahama Village – who are also supplying many of the staff who work at the complex. Those 300 residents are also supporting other nearby businesses and helping create a more local vibe the entire length of Duval Street. All along Duval there are signs of what’s to come as construction begins on widening sidewalks, installing trees and benches and creating a more people friendly main street. Locals from around Key West flock to downtown Mom-and-Pop Shops. As a result of more locals being downtown, visitors enjoy a more real experience and stay longer and come back more often. Everybody wins.

We think it no coincidence that Mayor Johnston, City Manager Patti McLauchlin, Planning Director Katie Halloran and Strategic Planning consultant Elisa Levy are front and center on pulling all this together now when so many in the past have failed to get things done. This quartet have a vision for a way forward and the know-how and tenacity to make things happen. We all need to give them the support and resources to succeed. Our downtown wins if they do.

# # # 

Feature picture is from artist Jessica Chang. You can find the nearly 50 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.

Streets for People / 3 Reasons You May Not Have Thought of for Voting YES on 3.2 on January 18

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on January 7, 2022 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, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here. 

Voting YES in the January 18 special election to decide whether Key West should lease 3.2 acres of City-owned land in Bahama Village to a non-profit group for 99 years for affordable housing seems like a no brainer. Everyone agrees there’s a need for more affordable housing. Study after study shows this is so. Survey after survey indicates this is a problem. Voting YES addresses the issue. Putting these units downtown provides at least three additional benefits you may not have though of. 1. More locals’ living downtown creates a more local focused, less touristy vibe and that’s good for our historic business district; 2. Housing downtown makes it easier to bike, walk and use transit to get around; and 3. Not being car dependent brings livability costs down even further for residents of the project. 

Everyone Agrees There’s a Need for More Affordable Housing

The Chamber of Commerce says workers are leaving the Keys due to a lack of affordable housing citing more than 2,000 people leaving Key West between March 2020 and April 2021. A recent survey of residents says affordable housing is our number one issue. And the recently adopted Key West Forward Strategic Plan 2021-2024 puts affordable housing front and center as the City’s number one priority.

The good folks at Slow Down Key West put it this way: 

“One thing that hasn’t slowed down over the last few years is the escalating home values in Key West and the loss of workers leaving Key West as a result. As homes are sold and resold at astronomical prices then too rents are increasing dramatically. In many cases new home owners have stopped doing long term rentals, which the Key West Working Class rely on — and have switched to renting monthly to tourists where they can get $10,000+ per month. This has had the effect of squeezing the working class into fewer and fewer available long-term rentals and has pushed rents ever higher – which has forced thousands of workers to leave Key West over the last few years.”

Adding approximately 126 workforce homes, with almost a quarter dedicated to homeownership, is a start in addressing the problem.

1. More Locals’ Living Downtown Creates a More Local Focused, Less Touristy Vibe and That’s Good for Our Historic Business District

More locals downtown mean more people that will frequent nearby bars, restaurants, and retail and that is good for business. It means 300 more people that can shop at grocery stores, hair salons, coffee shops, bodegas, and convenience stores too. 

Most visitors, to any destination, crave an authentic, real place that the locals love. When business caters to those of us who live and work here, you get a more real, authentic experience that visitors appreciate. They don’1t want chains and stuff they can get at home. They don’t want tourist trap places either. With 300 more locals mixing in, it helps to change the vibe a bit. 

Says the travel blog Tourism Tiger:

“The local experience trend means many tourists now like to travel like locals, and to immerse themselves in the culture, traditions, and language of a place. As more and more people grow tired of resorts and standard vacations, there has been a shift towards wanting to see the “real” side of the destinations they visit.”

Paul Menta of Key West First Legal Rum Distillery and head of the Shop Mom and Pop Key West group agrees and adds: 

“Keeping locals living locally in Key West has many advantages such as it keeps the local economy going as they buy at Mom-and-Pop type places, they have options to bike or bus to work, which takes the stress away of driving and parking, and they add to the ambiance of Key West by having locals walking around with tourists. Sounds funny but when you travel you want to shop and eat where the locals are!” 

No, adding 126 units and 300 people isn’t going to transform downtown. But it’s a start. In our July 9, 2021 article “Limiting Large Cruise Ships Gives Us an Opportunity to Make Duval Street & Historic Downtown More Local Focused, Again” we go into more detail about creating that locals’ vibe that many recall from days of yore. 

2. Housing Downtown Makes It Easier to Bike, Walk and Use Transit to Get Around

At just 1.1 miles between Fort Street to the south and White Street to the north and 1.2 miles between the Gulf in the west down Duval Street to the Atlantic in the east, downtown is very compact and flat. Most of our jobs and attractions are here. From the project it is 7 blocks to Fausto’s grocery store on Fleming, 5 blocks to CVS on Truman and 5 blocks to Walgreens on Duval. Life for residents of the Lofts (the proposed name of the project) will be within walking and certainly pedal distance. Even better, the Duval Loop bus and it’s 20–30-minute frequent service goes right by the new housing, connecting residents quickly to all downtown seven days a week, early mornings to late night. 

The proximity to everything makes it possible that the additional 300 people will generate very little traffic and parking congestion downtown. That’s a good thing.

When asked if the project would increase traffic in Bahama Village here’s how the project’s sponsors answered:

“The current proposal is to open Fort Street to Angela for pedestrians and bikes ONLY. The Lofts will not be a “shortcut” to anything. The traffic pattern of the site is self-contained within the site, meaning NO through traffic. The once-proposed commercial space has been eliminated, so this will also not contribute to new retail or customer traffic. While the City Planning department will require a specific number of parking spaces, based upon the total number of units, this environmentally-green project suggests one car space per-unit. Incentivizing residents without cars is another means to reduce traffic. Again: this is why community meetings and input are critical.”

If anything, we think they are underselling the value of building housing right in the heart of downtown. I live downtown and don’t own a car. Even if many of the residents do have cars, they won’t need to use them most of the time.

3. Not Being Car Dependent Brings Livability Costs Down Even Further for Residents of the Lofts

Much of the more recent affordable housing stock, like the 208-unit Quarry Apartments on Big Coppitt have been built up the Keys. The under construction 280-unit Wreckers Cay and the 104-unit College Road affordable projects are being built on Stock Island. Everything in the pipeline right now is beyond Cow Key Bridge, which for most folks makes the housing car dependent. Building workforce or affordable housing where every adult and most teens need their own car to get to work, school and play is nuts because the American Automobile Association (AAA) says that the average cost of owning and maintaining an automobile is nearly $10,000 annually. 

For most people, after housing, transportation is their second biggest expense. In fact, for many households, especially in the suburbs, it is the biggest expense. Emerging research shows that policy makers should look at the combined costs of housing + transportation and look at total affordable living, not just housing when addressing the issue. We go into detail on this in our May 14, 2021 article ”How Better Transit and Bicycle Facilities Can Help Address Affordable Housing.”

For the residents of the Lofts, not being dependent on a car, like those that live beyond Cow Key Bridge, is a bonus. Most of these families can choose to go car-lite (one car per household), if not car-free. That will bring total life affordability way down and is another reason for building housing downtown.

Vote YES on 3.2 on January 18

We urge you to take the time to vote YES on 3.2 on January 18. The housing is desperately needed, and we hope to have shown there are additional benefits to our beloved downtown as well as the future residents of the project by putting the homes on City owned land in Bahama Village. For more information visit the Housing for All Key West website. Early voting has already started at the Supervisor of Elections Office at 530 Whitehead Street, Suite 101. Get out and vote please.

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You can find all the 46+ 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.