Streets for People / County Officials Reserved On-Street Parking Stands In Way of Completing Southard Street Bike Lane

By Chris Hamilton. This story is cross posted in KONK Life newspaper on April 21 2023Follow 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.

Southard Street has had a bike lane from White Street down to Whitehead at the Green Parrot for as long as anyone can remember. It and the parallel bike lane on Fleming are heavily trafficked by locals, workers, and visitors to get in and out of and around downtown. So, last year when the City started a project to rebuild the sidewalk and street in the 300 and 400 blocks of Southard, bicycle enthusiasts were hopeful that the Vision of the adopted Bike Plan would be fulfilled, and the bike lane would finally be extended into the busy 300 block and on into the Truman Waterfront Park. Alas, as has happened with so many projects, the 300 block was recently repainted exactly as it had been before, with “Reserved Parking” for County officials on the public right-of-way and no bike lane where the Bike Plan says there should be one. Parking for a few seems to trump safe biking for the many, again.

We’re told by City staff this is complicated because although this is a City street, there’s some sort of agreement between the City and the County giving this side of the street over to parking for County State Attorney officials and the Supervisor of Elections at the adjacent building in this block. To her credit, last month Mayor Teri Johnston asked the City Manager and City Attorney to figure out a way to get the bike lane done. In turn the City Attorney has asked his counterparts at the County to amend the agreement. A couple months ago we asked our County Commissioner for help, but he hasn’t been able to make headway. With County parking lots in the back of and on the side of the building we’re wondering why the County is reluctant to help make bicycling into Truman Waterfront Park safer.

Our hope is that County officials will see the folly of a few private parking spaces for government officials blocking a needed and proposed bike lane into the City’s signature park and reverse course before the paint gets too dry.

What’s Out There Today

The Southard and Fleming Streets bicycle lanes are well known, covering the 1100 blocks from White Street all the way down to the 400 blocks at Whitehead. And with the 300 and 400 blocks of Southard recently rebuilt and repaved, the new and improved bike lane in the 400 block of Southard Street looks great until it peters out just before you get to Whitehead. So, all of a sudden, if you are going to the Truman Waterfront Park, bikes suddenly have to take the lane and move into car traffic just where the street becomes two-way and gets even busier.

What the Bike Plan Says To Do

The City’s adopted Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan indicates on page 34 of its Vision Network to replace the current sharrows in the 300 block with a proper bike lane to complete the network all the way into Truman Waterfront Park. The perfect time to make that change is during a repaving. So, expectations were high when the street was recently rebuilt and repaved. But when construction was complete the street configuration was put back just the same as before, with private parking on-street for County officials and no bike lane. Why didn’t they follow the Bike Plan?

Why A Bike Lane Hasn’t Been Put In, Yet

When we asked why no bike lane was put in, per the Bike Plan, we learned that the City and County have a contract that was approved at a 2001 City Commission meeting to provide free on-street parking for County employees along this block during work hours. And so, we’ve been told the County must agree to let go of these spaces. The same agreement allows the County to use the 500 block of Thomas and the 400 block of Fleming for parking too. The County also owns a big parking lot behind the buildings on Thomas. If they have a crunch, perhaps they could add a deck to that parking lot. Or maybe they could provide incentives to get more of their employees to bike or take transit. Most employers downtown let their employees fend for themselves. We get that they want to do something for their most important employees, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of on-street City right-of-way that could be used for people on bikes and safer streets.

For a couple years now Mayor Teri Johnston has repeated the mantra to staff that she wants to see opportunities for bike and pedestrian improvements with every street rebuild or repaving and she’s been birddogging this particular issue. She asked the County Manager and Attorney to get this bike lane done and the City Attorney is talking to his counterparts at the County. That’s where we stand today. The ball is in the County’s court.

The Vision Network on page 34 of the Bike Plan calls for a bike lane (blue line) for the entire length of Southard Street and on into Truman Waterfront Park.

We Need a Network of Bike Facilities In Key West Not Disconnected Pieces

The fact that the Southard Street bike lane simply ends at the Green Parrot and dumps people on bikes into a jumble of traffic to fend for themselves, exemplifies the missing pieces of a larger safe bicycling network. Key West is full of cars AND bikes and that’s different than most places. According to the U.S. Census 15% of Key West residents commute to work by bicycle. That’s a lot more than some of the top “bike” cities in the country. Key West bike rental companies continue to do a record business. So, there’s a lot of bikes and now e-bikes and e-scooters mixing with golf carts, scooters, and cars. As so many of these people on the street are visitors from car-centric mainland places, they aren’t used to this jumble of vehicle types and that’s a dangerous mix. And it is why we need a seamless, connected, and safe network of bike facilities. Completing this bike lane all the way through to the park, as the Bike Plan instructs us to, helps achieve a safer network. And that’s better for everyone. People in cars and on bikes. Let’s hope Monroe County officials agree.

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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 / The Canary In Our Florida Keys Coal Mine Is Our Fragile Water System. Here’s 10 Things to Reign In Overtourism and Overdevelopment that Killed the Bird

By Chris Hamilton. This story is cross posted in KONK Life newspaper on March 31 2023Follow 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 most of us experienced a temporary water shut off March 11 and 12 and then a boil-water order, Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA) Executive Director Greg Veliz explained in an open letter to customers what happened and all but admitted we’ve reached our limit on development and tourists, as our water system can no longer handle the increased demands. As a result, the FKAA has reduced the daily volume of water to relieve pressure on our aging pipes that are in desperate need of an expensive replacement. That’s why you experience a reduction in water pressure. And with a $42M project to replace 4 miles of pipe beginning in April and an admitted need to replace all 130 miles of the 40-year-old pipes at $10M a mile, our capacity isn’t increasing anytime soon.

Traffic is getting worse by the year; affordable housing is impossible to find for our beleaguered workers and there’s a growing list of jobs going unfilled creating lowered expectations on everything from restaurant and hotel service to public transit and essential City/County services. Overtourism and overdevelopment relate to the carrying capacity of a community. If the other indicators haven’t convinced you that we’ve reached our growth limit, FKAA’s mea culpa that they can’t pump any more water through our old, creaky pipes surely reveals it’s time we say “enough” and get off the merry-go-round of ever more visitors and the increased development that caters to them.

Overtourism and overdevelopment lead to housing, traffic, and water quality problems in our nearshore waters. They risk our ability to escape during a hurricane. Now even our fresh water supply can’t keep up. Here are several indicators that we’ve reached capacity and 10 things we can do to get off the merry-go-round and preserve and protect the quality of life in Key West and the Florida Keys.

FKAA’s Candid Admission We’ve Reached Our Capacity

Here’s the gist of what FKAA Director Greg Veliz said in his March 23 letter:

“We have customarily pumped between 23 and 26 million gallons per day. Prior to Covid, our levels were closer to 19 to 21 million gallons a day. The demands on our system have continued to increase…The pipe, in its current condition, is simply not able to support the volume of water or the pressures required to move it, therefore we have been forced to make reductions…We do not feel confident that our pipes can continue to handle 23-26 million gallons a day, so we have limited our output to 22 million gallons a day. In order to achieve that we’ve had to reduce pressure.”

Other indicators include: traffic congestion continues to be a top concern as ever more thousands of cars arrive on our islands every day. Our airports report record arrivals. Affordable housing consistently ranks as the number one issues in surveys and is our number one priority in the City’s strategic plan. The cruise ships, wastewater, shallow injection wells and dying reef issues amply demonstrate that we’re overcapacity. And we don’t even know if we can safely evacuate all our people – a major indicator of overcapacity – because the hurricane evacuation model has not been updated since 2010.

In a nutshell, we’ve reached our capacity for people.

Overtourism and the Resulting Overdevelopment Is Reducing Our Quality of Life

Don’t take it from me, here’s what some thoughtful environmentalists are saying:

“The level of development that has been allowed just doesn’t make sense. Traffic is overcapacity. Our coral reef is dying. Our endangered species are declining. The level of development is insane. We need start back-peddling.”
– Dottie Moses, lives on Key Largo and volunteers with Save A Turtle, Florida Keys Scenic Corridor Alliance and more

“Low water pressure, overcrowded highway, dead reef, decreased water quality, etc. We exceeded development levels a long time ago.”
– Don DeMaria, long-time commercial fisherman and advisor to the Sanctuary Advisory Panel and other fishing and environmental groups, lives on Summerland Key

Vacation rentals are the major cause of our lack of housing. We are never going to be able to build ourselves out of the housing problem. “
– Denise Werling, served many years on the Monroe County Planning Board and lives on Cudjoe Key

7 Things Our Community Should Do To Address Overtourism and Overdevelopment

1 – Divert Tourist Development Council (TDC) Funds from Marketing to infrastructure that Invests in Resiliency and Workforce Housing

We need to stop mass promoting Key West and the Florida Keys. Our destinations and events can promote themselves. The incessant general advertising helps fuel people turning their homes into vacation rentals. Turn off the spigot. People know we are here and will find us. And those dollars should be used for infrastructure that tourists use and the people that serve them.

2 – Help Stop Sham “Affordable Housing” Development

We need to make our discontent known to those in power. Developers and their attorneys are at virtually every city and county commission meeting, asking for approval for yet another “affordable housing” project that is anything but affordable. No one holds their feet to the fire to ensure these projects have a significant number of low or very-low-income units. Because of the high annual median income (AMI) in Monroe County, $73,153 (we have lots of second homeowners and wealthy retirees), two of the four “Affordable Housing” categories are actually “Market Rate” or above.  So, a developer can receive Federal Affordable Housing Grant incentives and get virtually anything approved locally – yet build an entire complex of housing that’s 100% Market Rate. Don’t be fooled by these “Affordable Housing Projects” – require any new development or re-development include at least 50% of Low or Very Low Affordable Housing. 

3 – Crack Down on Illegal Vacation Rentals and Discourage Conversions

Florida law does not currently allow “carve outs” that permit local communities or counties to restrict the number of vacation rentals. Yet, the Keys are an Area of Critical State Concern.  If ever a carve out was possible it would be for our ACSC. Our politicians should be asking for this, rather than asking the legislature to approve more building permits that the Florida courts have already deemed illegal and would jeopardize safe hurricane evacuation. Let’s ask our City, County and State representatives to do this in next year’s session. The time to start working this issue is now.

4 – Let the Truman Annex Transient Rental Licenses Expire in 2025

There’s no need for the City to do anything for the 162 properties with transient licenses in the Truman Annex. No study. No compensation. No nothing. Simply let them expire and then vigorously enforce the 30-day rule on anyone who wants to continue to rent. Maybe some of these units will become homes for locals again.

5 – Sunset As Many Existing Transient Rental Licenses As Possible

For other transient licenses there have to be some regulatory provisions to “sunset” these over time. Or buy them out. Or don’t let them transfer with a property sale. Or simply jack up annual fees and taxes on short-term rentals so the penalties exceed the sky-high rental income levels involved.

6 – Limit Vacation Rentals and Provide Incentives for Property Owners to Rent Long-term to Workers

For every stick there should be a carrot. What can we do to limit vacation rentals and make it easier and more profitable for people to rent long-term to workers instead of short-term to vacationers? Put a cap on the number of vacation rentals? Provide property tax breaks to long-term rental properties? Subsidies for property owners providing long-term affordable housing (could be paid for via fees from vacation rental permits or fines imposed on illegal short-term rentals)?

7 – Oppose The Use of the 1,00 New ROGO’s Outside of Key West

In a March 23 story in FLKeysNews about FKAA saying they needed more than a billion dollars to replace 130 miles of aging pipe reporter David Goodhue said:

“As the pipes continue to age, the Keys are seeing an ever-increasing number of tourists, vacation renters and residents. A bill is also making its way through the Legislature that would allow the building of 1,300 more affordable housing units in the Keys, raising questions of how the struggling infrastructure will be able to keep up.

“That is one of many issues that make the continued effort to add more development to an already over-developed string of islands so ill-advised,” said Richard Grosso, an environmental attorney representing several residents trying to block passage of the bill, HB 627. “The Keys are struggling to find the money and capacity to keep existing roads, homes and businesses dry and keep the water running, and facing dangerous evacuation times just when hurricanes are getting less predictable and intense.”

Since this story the Florida Legislature has passed and the Governor on Thursday signed the bill Mr. Grosso references (HB 627 was rolled into SB 102) to provide a legislative fix to the Florida Supreme Court ruling upholding the Third District Court of Appeals decision in August 2022 to not allow use of 1,000 ROGO’s (Unincorporated Monroe 300, Marathon 300, Islamorada 300 Key Colony Beach 50, and Layton 50) of the 1,300 because it violated Florida Statute 380.0552 that designated the Keys an Area of State Critical Concern. The new ROGO’s were provided to the Keys in 2018 by then Governor Rick Scott. Key West’s 300 were allowed but have not been used yet. According to a March 30 story in the Citizen Marathon and Islamorada plan to use their allocations and Monroe County hasn’t formally applied to use them.

So those ROGO’s are coming – although perhaps not without another court case. We should demand Monroe County, Marathon (who’s already allocated most of them to specific developments and built 52 of them), and Islamorada not accept using these for all the capacity reasons we’ve talked about above, including the hurricane evacuation concerns discussed in the March 30 story.

While we need more affordable housing units, the fact is we wouldn’t need them if we addressed the overtourism that drives people to turn existing residential units into vacation rentals or required developers to dedicate 50% of their “affordable housing” project to Low or Very-Low-Income levels. Most of the remaining ROGO’s left in the system (those beyond the 1,000) should only be used for affordable workforce housing.

3 Things You Can Do To Help

1 – Join Last Stand

Last Stand is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that’s been fighting to protect the Keys quality of life and natural environment since 1987. Full disclosure, I’m a Board Member. We are currently taking stands on overdevelopment and overtourism as it effects safe evacuation time, affordable housing, traffic congestion, water quality, our hospitals, police and more. We recently gave an award to Safer Cleaner Ships and supported the recent victory in pushing back on the use of shallow-injection wells in Marathon to help save our nearshore water quality. We are part of the consortium of groups who recently tried to block passage of HB 627 (now SB102) of which Richard Grasso (above) is a part. We help educate and inform and track legislation at the County and City level. Join our mailing list here. Follow us on Facebook. Become a member here.

2 – Follow and Subscribe to Local News and Groups
Me sharing my “I get my news from Gwen Filosa” bumper sticker with Gwen Filosa at the Keys Last Stand’ “Through the Eyes of Storytellers – What Makes the Keys Unique and Worth Protecting” on the rooftop of The Studios in January.

Stay informed about local issues by following and subscribing to local news outlets.

As the bumper sticker says, “I get my news from Gwen Filosa!” Gwen is our local WLRN NPR southernmost reporter. In addition to her own reports here she avidly consolidates news from around the island, so follow her Facebook and Twitter pages and you’ll always be up-to-date. You’ll have fun too.

Key West Island News’ website is another great resource. Editor Linda Grist Cunningham has a weekly column and has local news and Florida news pages that consolidate other sources so you don’t have to scroll all over the place. The Facebook page is a must follow too.

Keys Weekly is online or pick up a copy every Thursday at the red boxes and locations around town. There are Key West, Marathon and Upper Keys issues each week. Local owners Britt Myers and Jason Koler and Editor Mandy Miles will keep you informed with in-depth and well-researched articles.

I subscribe to Keys Citizen and so should you. They have digital news and a good old-fashioned paper that is dropped off at your house 3 days a week. They are our local newspaper of record. Local reporters like Timothy O’Hara are first rate.

I subscribe to KONK Life and so should you. While they haven’t produced a weekly print edition since Covid, they do an amazing job of consolidating local news and presenting it in daily e-blasts and online. My “Streets for People” column appears there too.

FLKeysNews is another online source that you should keep in your repertoire.

If you live in the Lower Keys, pick up the News-Barometer at many locations. It’s free and covers issues and events in the Lower Keys and beyond.

If you are on Facebook, join the Reimagining Key West group. Started during Covid, they are by far THE most thoughtful place on the Internet for good information and discussion about the issues concerning all of us.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t plug my own Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown Facebook page, Twitter page and blog. If you want to follow what’s happening in transportation and downtown Key West development, these are your go-to sources.

3. Get involved/Talk to your City and County Commissioners

Keep links to your local elected officials handy so you can write and call them when needed. Here’s some links:

The Canary Died. We Need to Listen and Act

The canary in the coal mine died when FKAA told us in no uncertain terms that our water system can’t handle any more people in the Keys. To protect our quality of life and better address all the problems we already agree are hurting us, (i.e., lack of affordable housing, finding workers, traffic and parking congestion, degradation of our nearshore waters, and more), we need to say “enough”! We’ve reached our capacity on visitors and residents. Everything we do going forward should be done in the context of preserving and protecting the paradise we have and not giving in to the greed and siren song of more is better.

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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 / New “Locals” Multi-Use Paths Behind the Airport Move Closer to Reality, Maybe

By Chris Hamilton. This story is cross posted in KONK Life newspaper on March 17 2023Follow 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.

Three new multi-use paths behind the airport are moving closer to reality as City and County officials take the advice of the Parks and Recreation Board and use the City/County Hawk Missile Site/Higgs Beach land swap as a mechanism to get the process started. The City Commission approved the land swap agreement, negotiated between City and County staff that includes the trails on March 7. The County Commission has the agreement on its March 22 agenda. If, as expected, the County approves the agreement, then the hard work begins. That’s why we hedge our bet with a maybe, because working in an environmentally sensitive area, next to an airport means layers of rules, conditions, permits and bureaucracy, any one of which could derail the project, despite good intentions.

Trail number one would be a new “Salt Ponds Multi-Use Path” connecting the communities of Ocean Walk, Las Salinas, Seaside and Sunrise Suites to downtown via a safer and time saving short cut behind the airport that will shave 10+ minutes off the existing 30-minute bike commute. Another is the “Smathers Beach Multi-Use Path” connecting Flagler with a short-cut to the beach behind the Key West By the Sea condo. And yet a third multi-use mini path would provide a short-cut from Flagler via Riviera Street (not Drive) to Little Hamaca Park.

This is a big deal because it resurrects and makes real some old pathways that were used by locals a generation ago and fulfills some of the key visions of the City’s adopted Bike/Ped Plan. By making it easier and safer for workers to bike downtown and for locals in New Town to get to the beach and Little Hamaca Park it gives more people the option of ditching a car for these trips. And when more people choose to bike instead of drive, we all win by reducing traffic and parking congestion. But for these trails to become a reality, local residents and workers are going to have to demand the City and the County overcome the bureaucratic inertia built into a difficult project like this and insist we find ways to get it done.

How We Got Here

The 2019 Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan calls for building the Salt Ponds Trail, called the “Airport Connector” in the document, and the little short cut from Flagler via Riviera Street to Little Hamaca Park on page 65. The Salt Ponds Multi-Use Path cuts from access behind the Sunrise Suites to behind the backside of the Key West International Airport, with the ideal design, using a wide elevated concrete boardwalk where needed to traverse water and wetlands with limited impact of nature, to Government Road where it would cross Flagler Avenue at 7th Street and then connect up with the Crosstown Greenway. The “Smathers Beach Connector” is found on page 69 of the Bike/Ped Plan. Both paths are described in detail, along with locals’ recollections of their origins here.

In 2021 the City’s then Multi-Modal Coordinator Tim Staub identified beginning design and planning for the “Salt Ponds” and “Smathers Beach” trails in 2022. That generated excitement in the community. In our story, What’s Old is New Again. Two New Bike Trails Take Us Back in Time to a Simpler Key West, April 30, 2021, we shared some locals’ stories about how these had all been informal paths back in the day and that Key West Bicycle Coordinator Jim Malcom had tried to revive and formalize them before his untimely death in 2008. Nothing came of Mr. Malcom’s Plans until people remembered it during community meetings and had it put in the Bike Plan. In our 2021 story we wrote:

“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.”

Despite Tim Staub putting the projects in his work plan, it looked like they may stall out because of how complicated the reality of building anything in Salt Ponds was proving to be. In our story, Airport’s Need for Additional City Land Could Help Spur Salt Ponds and Smathers Beach “Locals” Bike Trails, February 11, 2022 we discussed how the potential land swap between the County, wanting the City-owned Hawk Missile Site and the City, wanting the County-owned Higgs Beach, gave all the Salt Ponds trails renewed life.

City’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board Leads

With the County wanting to swap land to help facilitate airport expansion, the City Commission tasked the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board with looking into and making recommendations on the land swap. The P&R Board had many meetings and discussions over a two-year period with the community about activating the HAWK area (over 60 acres) as a passive park and valuable asset to the City and have always included the “multi-use” paths as a key element. As one P&R Board member said to me: “These are more than just bike paths. They are recreational trails for walkers, runners, and all sorts of people to use to access outdoors and nature.”

The Board has been instrumental in ensuring the paths would become a reality by insisting that getting them constructed be included in any Inter-Local-Agreement (ILA) between the County and City for the land swap. Here’s how Parks and Recreation Advisory Board Chair Tiffany Pellicier put it:

“This is an exciting opportunity for the City and the County to work together to revitalize an area while also creating a safer space for our biking, walking and alternative transportation community. A lot of great work and visionary plans are readily available as a result of the City’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan as well as some positive preliminary correspondence between the County and the Department of Interior and National Park Service. The tricky part will be navigating the state, federal and environmental agencies throughout the permitting process. However, I’m confident and hopeful that both governing bodies will work in tandem to see this project to completion.”

City Approves Agreement, County Up Next and Then…

On March 7 the City Commission approved the ILA with the provision that their staff would provide the County with concept plans for the new trail within one year. Upon receipt of the plan, the County would have three years to move from concept to formal design, get all necessary approvals and construct the trail. Per the agreement, once the County approves the ILA, which has already been negotiated by staff, the clock will start ticking.

We’re told the Bike/Ped Plan itself already provides a good conceptual framework from which the process can begin. City staff has also prepared a $158,000 request to FDOT for a “Salt Ponds Pathways Feasibility Study” Transportation Alternative Program (TAP) grant to supplement the work already done in the Bike/Ped Plan with more specifics. Both sides have agreed they’ll be flexible on the exact timing, but the City Manager said she thought her staff would meet the one-year deadline to get concepts to the County.

At that point the County, “to the extent allowed by city, county, and federal laws and regulations governing the airport and the salt ponds” would then have three years to construct a path. To the extent that financing is available, more than one path could be done. If all goes well, we’re talking about spring/summer 2027 before these are done.

Residents Need to Vocally Support the Salt Ponds Multi-Use Pathways

Nothing good is easy. And these paths being built on land the U.S. Department of Interior gave the City attached with many conditions, that are in an environmentally sensitive area and next to an airport will prove complex. And expensive. As staff hit roadblocks and NIMBYS, naysayers and whatabouters come out of the woodwork, as they do for any project, it will be important that the locals these multi-use paths are intended for, speak up and say, “Yes, we want these, find a way to get it done.”

Speaker Bert Sise said at the March 7 City Commission meeting in speaking of the agreement: “…and yes put in bike paths from S. Roosevelt to Government Road so people from the condos can ride bikes instead of being on Flagler, which is a deathtrap and there’s no real good bike lanes on the promenades anymore.” Building the Salt Ponds Multi-Use Path will help these workers. And building all these “Locals” short-cut paths will make our island smaller and therefore more convenient and much safer to get around by bike. And that’s very good for all of us in so many different ways. Please let your City and County Commissioners know you support these paths too.

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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 / One Year In Lama E-Scooters Are Proving to Be a Success. We Need to Make It Easier for Them to Expand

By Chris Hamilton. This story is cross posted in KONK Life newspaper on March 1 2023Follow 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 March we brought news of a gleaming new e-scooter (the stand-up kind) share service, starting in downtown Key West that whisks visitors around town in an eco-friendly way to shop, dine and visit attractions without need of a personal car, Uber, golf cart or loud, smoke spewing, gas-powered moped. The system, with the friendly name Lama, is the brainchild of local entrepreneur Marc Meisel, who has four stations with 48 scooters at his H2O Suites, Santa Maria Suites and Southwinds Motel properties. We test drove a scooter for a morning and loved it. One year later we’re happy to report that Lama has been a huge success.

According to Lama officials over 4,400 rides have been taken in the first year covering 18,000 miles and reducing about 2,600 vehicle trips on Key West’ streets saving all of us traffic and parking congestion headaches. Riders report going to attractions, beaches, shopping, and restaurants in support of our local economy. Best of all there have been zero accidents or injuries in a testament to the system’s deployment of numerous safety features.

Mr. Meisel says he’s enthusiastic about expanding the program to additional, mostly other hotel locations, throughout the City. And given their popularity he’d like to introduce e-bikes – they can fit into the same docks as the e-scooters – to further decrease the number of vehicles on our streets. But Mr. Meisel says they are facing challenges in expanding the program due to the strict regulations enforced by the City. We’d like to see City officials streamline the process for alternative modes and make it easier to get more people on bikes and scooters instead of defaulting to cars. Think about this. 28 percent of car trips are 1 mile are less. 40 percent are less than 2 miles and 50 percent of car trips are 3 miles are less. Getting more people to use alternatives to cars, especially for these short trips, will make our little island less congested, cleaner, greener, healthier, and more prosperous. Let’s dive into some of the details.

Simple, Elegant, Easy to Use

Here’s my notes on how the Lama system works from when I took my test ride: 

  • Scooters are parked and charged at Lama charging racks located at Santa Maria SuitesSouthwinds Motel and H2O Suites.
  • Anyone, not just hotel guests, may use the system – as long as you’re 18 years of age and have a valid form of government identification and credit card.
  • Riders utilize the Lama app to rent the scooters and are charged $9 hour or $36 max per day.
  • You open your app, press “Scan & unlock”, and a camera opens up for you to scan the bar code on an individual scooter. Once verified, the scooter will unlock. You unplug the charger and away you go. It’s that easy. 
  • The system enables the rider to “pause the ride,” as many times as they like, to shop, dine and visit attractions and lock the scooter to a bike rack. This “pause” prevents someone else from unlocking and thus using the scooter and is why it is considered a round trip instead of point-to-point rental. 
  • At the end of the ride, you simply “Scan & lock” the bike the same way you unlocked it. And remember to plug in the charging cable. Easy breezy. 
  • Helmets are available at the front desks. Note – I didn’t feel it necessary to wear one while riding the scooter, just as I don’t in riding my one speed bike around town. If you are going slow enough it just isn’t needed. 

Watch this video to see how the company explains the customer experience.

With the weight of the scooter in the battery at the bottom, the scooter feels grounded and sturdy. The footboard is wider than most scooters too – which makes it easy to get steady footing. You must push the scooter a bit before the throttle will engage, preventing it from jumping away from you. Using the throttle and hand brake are very intuitive. Within minutes I felt comfortable keeping up with traffic, weaving around potholes and stopping and starting.

Innovative Roundtrip Rental Solves Right-of-Way, Charging and “Abandoned Scooter Problems

Mr. Meisel saw a need to provide his guests with another alternative to get around in addition to the bikes they rent. But he realized that dockless scooters, which traditionally operate with the pickup and drop off transaction conducted on the street via an app, has been problematic in other cities. In fact, Key West doesn’t allow these kinds of operations in the City right-of-way, which has been the Achilles heel of several other failed attempts at Key West based private bikesharepublic bikeshare and Zipcar carshare.

In other cities across the country, traditional dockless rideshare e-scooter programs like LimeSpinBird and Lyft, operate when a customer sees an e-scooter on the street and then uses an app to unlock it and go. Lama Mobility was designed to operate as a round trip rental, like the way bicycles are rented traditionally from a storefront or as we often see here in Key West, at a hotel.

Mr. Meisel said their system was designed this way because one of the biggest complaints of electric scooters in other cities is the problem of abandoned scooters’ littering sidewalks, parks, and other public spaces. The other problem is keeping those scooters charged.

By creating docking stations where the scooter is charged while it’s parked, it solves the charging problem. Putting the docking station on a hotel property where the user picks up AND returns the scooter to the station means they won’t be left somewhere else. That takes care of the problem of “abandoned” scooters littering sidewalks and it solves the Key West specific problem of moving the transaction off the City’s right-of-way too. 

Here’s how Marc Meisel explains how this has worked with the hotels:

“By hotels offering Lama e-scooters and having them conveniently located at a charging rack in their parking lot, guests of that hotel, if they drove or rented a car, do not need to use their cars, and can opt to use a Lama e-scooter while their vehicle is parked in the hotel parking lot during their stay. The other benefit of locating Lama e-scooters at hotels is that guests who rent the Lama’s will eventually return to the hotel. Therefore, the Lama’s are not littering public spaces throughout h city but instead being taken back to the hotels and put into their docking station to charge for the next customer. To date, with over 4,000 rides logged only 3 scooters were not returned to their Lama’s docking stations.”

Safety Education and Features Are Built Into the System

When I took my test ride a mom and two teenage kids asked where they could get these. It was pointed out that one must be 18 years old to use the system. When you download the app, the next step is to take a front and back picture of your driver’s license and then a selfie. Within a few seconds, the system verifies you have a valid permit and verifies you are the person with that license. This prevents fraud and is a good safety feature.

Safety education is built into the system so that riders are readily aware of how to operate the scooters and of the rules of the road. The app walks users through instructional/safety information and videos. That same information is then displayed on the charging rack monitors. There are bright front and back lights on the scooters, a loud bell and the device can’t go more than 15 mph. Let’s say that again because it is such an important point. The e-scooters can’t go more than 15 mph! All users must be 18 years of age.

As most of us are now aware, Key West prohibits e-bicycles and e-scooters on sidewalks except on the Multi-use paths or promenades on North and South Roosevelt, Bertha, and Atlantic. As part of the safety education and rules of the road on the app and at the station, Lama stresses to customers that you aren’t allowed to ride on the sidewalk. One gets the message loud and clear.

Additional Safety Features Can Be Added to the System

These cool scooters have a feature that allows the company to put a virtual fence around an area where the Lama scooter won’t be able to operate. For example, there’s a block of residential homes behind one of the hotels that asked for this. In theory it would allow the City to ask Lama to say, restrict the maximum 15 mph speed of the vehicles in certain zones to something less. For example, if wanted, you could set the maximum speed at 10 mph for heavily used areas like Duval Street. Or you could even have the scooter not be able to operate when it hit a certain zone like Mallory Square where you don’t want them mixing with pedestrians.

Survey Says Scooters Reduce Car Traffic

Lama emailed customers who used the system between March 4 and May 31 a 3-question survey. Here’s what they found out:

  • 70 percent of the riders are hotel guests of the 3 properties.
  • Over 60 percent of riders traveled to restaurants and bars and over 50 percent went shopping. Attractions and beaches were popular destinations too.
  • 68 percent of riders would have used a personal vehicle, taxi or rideshare service if they didn’t have the Lama e-scooter to get around. 23 percent would have walked, and 4 percent would have biked.

Here’s an important point. While a little more than a quarter of users would have simply walked or rode a regular bicycle, 72 percent would have used their personal or rental vehicle, a taxi or rideshare company like Uber or rented a gas-powered scooter. THAT’S a lot of car trips taken off our congested little downtown streets.

Said Mr. Meisel of the results:

“Lama Mobility has proven to be a safe method of transportation that tourists have welcomed as an alternative method to using an Uber or their vehicle to explore Key West. As seen on the attached heat map, people have been using Lama e-scooters to visit attractions, explore, shop, and dine all over Key West (Old Town, New Town, and some locations in Stock Island). They have been exploring and shopping in an environmentally friendly way that has not been adding to the traffic, parking, or noise pollution problems we currently have with cars and gas-powered mopeds. Meanwhile, the hotels we serve have been applauded by their guests for providing a fun, eco-friendly way to get around. Many guests have commented that they would only have seen or done so much of the island with the scooters.”

Heat map showing where Lama e-scooter trips are taken.

Lama Is Part of the Solution So Let’s Get the Regulations Off Their Back and Let Them, And Others, Innovate to Make Our Island Better

It is no secret that we’re enthusiastic proponents of getting around by bike, walk and transit as a means of helping our island and especially our congested downtown prosper and be more people friendly. So, expanding Lama, especially since the City doesn’t have to pay a dime for any of it, seems like a no-brainer net public good. So why isn’t Mr. Meisel more quickly following up on year one success with expansion? Here’s how he explains it:

“I am enthusiastic about expanding the program and introducing Lama e-bikes to assist in helping reduce the issues in Key West revolving around automobiles, including traffic, parking, and noise pollution, to name a few. The City of Key West regulates what they call Recreation Rental Vehicles, which is what the Lama e-scooters fall under. It took over 9 months to go through the City of Key West’s approval process for the 48 Lama Mobility electric scooters. A lot of money is spent on legal fees, application fees, traffic studies and more. Each location requires a separate application, traffic study and more. You can’t walk in with an application, fulfilling all the requirements, and obtain a license like in many other jurisdictions. There is no guarantee that the City will allow any more as it was difficult to get these in place.”

He’s also leaving out the part that once he has his application, study and fees for each individual location initially approved by staff, they then have to be routed through a bunch of different departments for sign off and then the company has to walk these applications through Planning Board, perhaps HARC and then the City Commission. It’s not like the Lama Mobility Company wants to dispose of nuclear waste. They simply want to add more stations – on private property – and more bikes and scooters. A GOOD THING. That and their initial stations and scooters were approved once already. And this report looks like it would meet the requirements of a parking study that says they don’t contribute to more traffic, rather they reduce traffic.

Recent research from Carnegie Mellon University, among other sources, shows how replacing short car trips with bike and scooter trips can lead to less congestion. Remember those short trip stats we gave you above where half of all car trips are 3 miles or less? So getting people out of cars and into quiet, eco-friendly alternatives like the Lama e-scooters for these trips is a good thing. It nicely compliments efforts like the Duval Loop. It makes our downtown a more friendly, green, and prosperous place. 

Our question is WHY isn’t City Hall expediting these kinds of programs instead of overregulating them? Why aren’t we putting in more bike racks and bike lanes? Why aren’t we pedestrianizing more downtown streets? Why isn’t there more frequent service on our Duval Loop? Why aren’t we spending marketing money to educate visitors that they don’t need a car to get around? And why aren’t we properly managing our parking so that we direct short-term parkers to meters and longer-term visitors and workers to long-term lots and garages instead of letting them park for free in our neighborhoods? All these things, including e-scooter and e-bike share, would make our historic downtown and whole island healthy, green, sustainable, equitable, prosperous, affordable, and happier too. Thanks to smart people at Lama Mobility like Marc Meisel we have a path to progress.

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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 / New Bike Lane on Bertha Street Is Half a Loaf for Bike Safety

By Chris Hamilton. This story is cross posted in KONK Life newspaper on February 24, 2023Follow 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.

As we near the end of what seems like a decades long rebuilding of Bertha Street, we’re happy to report a tiny victory that’s been unveiled as final repaving is being done. There’s a brand-new bike lane on the westbound side of the street between S. Roosevelt Boulevard and Flagler Avenue. This is the first new bike lane in the City since lanes were put in on Butler Boulevard in the brand-new Truman Waterfront Park in 2018 and the first new lane on an old street, where there wasn’t one before, since Reynolds Street got bike lanes on each side of the street in a 2017 repaving. Yay! Sort of.

But what’s sad is on the eastbound side of Bertha on the 3-block stretch between Flagler and Atlantic, there’s no bike lane so that we can instead accommodate six private car storage spaces. Yes, you got that right, six car parking spaces along an entire 3-block stretch. We’re being told to accept this modest achievement on the westbound side as half a loaf is better than none. I suppose in a city that routinely favors car convenience over bike safety we should accept our tiny new piece of infrastructure and be happy. But somehow the little win seems hollow in the face of what could have been. We need a whole, connected, and safer network of lanes, protected lanes and trails that makes it easy for more of us to choose to get around by bike. When we do, that’s good for our little island.

Plenty of Missed Opportunities For Bike Lanes Around the City, Including Bertha

As nice as this new westbound lane is, we won’t sugarcoat the fact that over the last few years we’ve missed some opportunities to include improvements for bicycles, as prescribed in the City’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, on Palm Avenue, S. Roosevelt Boulevard, Whitehead Street, Simonton Street, Duval Street and on the First and Bertha Streets corridor. The Bike/Ped Plan calls for a separated trail, similar to what you find on Atlantic Boulevard on the entirety of First and Bertha – thus connecting one side of the island to the other with a safe, protected trail. But as we’ve detailed in multiple stories (here and here) that was ditched in favor of keeping car parking.

Bertha between Atlantic and Flagler before reconstruction. Note: No car parking was taken away on the westbound side for the new bicycle lane.

What We’re Getting On Bertha Is Half a Loaf at Best

Instead, we’re getting half a mile of bike lane on one side of Bertha between S. Roosevelt and Flagler. Don’t get too excited, they didn’t take any car parking away to put in this lane. There never was parking on that side of the street, they simply narrowed the already too wide lanes a bit, which should help reduce speeding. We asked the City’s Multi-Modal Transportation Coordinator Ryan Stachurski about the lane and here’s what he said:

“I’ve seen happy bicyclists riding in the bike lane along Bertha – and there are only a few crossings, and they have good visibility, so it feels pretty safe. The speed limit is 20mph. I know a lot of people wanted to see more bicycle infrastructure, but I feel like this is a tempered improvement. With it we’re also improving pedestrian crossings, sidewalks, and improving visibility at intersections.”

While we appreciate Mr. Stachurski’s take, we’d point out that the problem with this bike lane is that it doesn’t connect to anything on either end, as there’s no bike lane on S. Roosevelt onto the Bertha lane. Everyone is on the Promenade and multi-use path side of Bertha anyway. We can’t imagine anyone on a bike getting off the safe multi-use path to cross traffic to get to the bike lane and when the multi-use path turns onto Atlantic there’s no safe way to navigate from there to the new lane. It’s a disconnected mess.

The City’s Bike/Ped Plan calls for separated bike lanes on Bertha between Atlantic and Flagler and a trail on First Street. On Bertha we’ll get a traditional, not separated, bike lane between Atlantic and Flagler on the westbound side and six car parking spaces on the eastbound side instead.

Six Car Parking Spaces Along 3-Block Stretch Instead of Eastbound Bike Lane

What’s particularly maddening about the tiny victory on the westbound side is that it would have been very easy to put in a bike lane on the eastbound side. But instead, we’ll get six private car storage spaces along an entire 3-block stretch. The block I live on Fleming has 12 and 14 car parking spaces on each side of one block. So, why so few spaces on 3 blocks? Well, there are so many driveways and curb cuts and sightline issues that the street engineers could only find space for six car parking spots along three entire blocks. There’s literally more striping for “no parking” than there is parking. So why in the world didn’t they simply bag the parking and put in a bike lane as on the other side of the street because the trade off seems way out of whack. In fact, the width of the parking would allow them to put in protected bike lanes (with the 2 feet of extra width) on each side of the road.

We Need a Network of Bike Facilities Not Disconnected Half a Loaf Pieces

Key West is full of cars AND bikes and that’s different than most places. According to the U.S. Census 15% of Key West residents commute to work by bicycle. That’s a lot more than some of the top “bike” cities in the country. Key West bike rental companies continue to do a record business. So, there’s a lot of bikes and now e-bikes and e-scooters mixing with golf carts, scooters, and cars. As so many of these people on the street are visitors from car-centric mainland places, they aren’t used to this jumble of vehicle types and that’s a dangerous mix. And it is why we need a seamless, connected, and safe network of bike facilities.

Yes, this little piece of new bike facility represents some progress, or half a loaf. But if we really want to make our little island a bicycle paradise that will help us fight traffic and parking congestion, improve our environment, and make us healthier, more prosperous, and happier, we need the whole loaf please.

# # #

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 / Do We Need a Traffic Light at Duck Avenue and S. Roosevelt?

By Chris Hamilton. This story is cross posted in KONK Life newspaper on February 10, 2023Follow 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.

FDOT is busy in Key West this month starting three new projects. A 2-year $24M rebuild of S. Roosevelt between Bertha and the end of Smathers Beach. A 6-month $2.6M rebuild of Whitehead Street between Truman and Fleming. And a $1M repaving and repainting of S. Roosevelt between Flagler and the Triangle. In each case, opportunities to put in new and safer bicycle infrastructure will be ignored in favor of existing car convenience.

Today we bring you the case of the smallest of these projects, where the City’s Crosstown Greenway bicycle facility on Duck Avenue meets four lanes of fast-moving traffic on S. Roosevelt Boulevard. We ask the question, could this facility use a traffic light or HAWK Light to get bicyclists across the highway and make travel safer and more convenient between Key West and Stock Island? And while we’re looking at this from the perspective of people on bikes – hey, cause that’s what we do – it would seem that people in cars have difficulty at this intersection and could use some help too.

The 3.5 mile Crosstown Greenway cuts through the heart of the island and the City recommends it as the main east-west bicycle route because it is safer than N. Roosevelt Boulevard and Flagler Avenue.

The City Encourages People to Use the Crosstown Greenway

The Crosstown Greenway is a designated bicycle route identified in the City’s 2013 Comprehensive Plan and 2019 Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan stretching from Reynolds Street on one end along VonPhister to Staples and Duck and ending at S. Roosevelt where it meets 4 lanes of fast-moving traffic. Over the last few years, the City has been doing pilot projects and planning safer segments, like the Wickers Trail, because this facility is the safe and quick alternative for bicyclists to get from one end of the island to the other instead of traffic heavy N. Roosevelt Boulevard or Flagler Avenue. The Crosstown Greenway provides a wonderfully quiet, safe, and direct passage right through the heart of the City.

An yet the bike lane on Duck simply dead ends at four lanes of traffic. Shouldn’t there be a safe way to cross here?

More People Are Using Bikes Between Key West and Stock Island

Traffic volume is up over the Cheryl Cates Bridge between Stock Island and Key West and that includes people on bicycles. This is especially true as the 240 units of workforce housing at Wreckers Cay are about half occupied now and more units are on the way at the Garden View Apartments (104), Roy’s Trailer Park (132) and the Key West Harbor Yacht Club (151). According to FDOT data more than 1,000 bicyclists a day use the inbound side of the bridge where the official Multi-Use Trail is that flows into the Promenade on N. Roosevelt Boulevard. While we don’t have good data at the moment on the bicycle volume on the outbound side, we do know that more than 700 bicyclists a day cross the middle point of the Crosstown Greenway on the Staples Avenue Bike/Ped Bridge.

I bike past this intersection about six times a week on my daily travels and can attest that lots of people on bicycles use the sidewalk on the outbound/south side of the road. It makes sense. For the many people coming around the Triangle on the outbound side, if they aren’t going to stay on what becomes the Low Stress Promenade and go all the way around the island by the Airport and Smathers Beach to get downtown (an extra 1.3 miles out of the way), they’ll cut across S. Roosevelt to Duck Avenue and use the Crosstown Greenway. Trying to cross 4 lanes of high-speed traffic – two lanes in each direction – is the very definition of High Stress. There’s no acknowledgement in the roadway that this is the crossing to the City’s official Crosstown Greenway. For the Greenway to be useful for people coming and going to Stock Island the intersection should be treated accordingly and made safer by demarcating it as a crossing and slowing the cars down.

Does that mean a HAWK light like the five we have on N. Roosevelt Boulevard that are only activated when a person requests a crossing? Or does it mean a full blown 3-way traffic? Or perhaps something else like speed bumps or paint and signage indicating that people and bikes are crossing here? Some people say, how about a roundabout. We aren’t sure. But isn’t something needed?

FDOT Says Nothing Is Needed

We asked FDOT officials if they had considered some sort of crosswalk at Duck Avenue. Here’s their response in full:

“During the Design phase of this project, the Traffic Operations Office performed a review of the request for a crosswalk from Duck Avenue across South Roosevelt Boulevard. This review determined that it was not warranted.”

We don’t exactly know what “not warranted” means. Do not enough people cross here? Of course, even that might be a chicken and egg question as if there was a crossing, would more people use it? Or does FDOT think it makes sense to get on the narrow-side sidewalk and go two blocks down to Flagler, cross with that light and then come two blocks back? Which, given human nature no one would do, so…

We just don’t know how FDOT squares a major bicycle facility just dead ending at their road and ignoring it. This surprises us because on other projects like the rebuilding of S. Roosevelt in front of Smathers Beach it was actually FDOT that had the safer more progressive recommendations that were turned down by the City.

While We’re At It Let’s Widen the Sidewalks Around the Triangle

Most residents of Stock Island live on the south/outbound or County side. So, many never navigate the long light to get over U.S. Route 1 at Cross Street and take the bike path to N. Roosevelt. Rather they simply stay on the narrow sidewalk past the retail, over Cheryl Cates Bridge, around the bend at the Triangle and then use the Crosstown Greenway to get into town. The problem is the sidewalk is a narrow 5 feet for much of the way and is less when you encounter poles and foliage. This makes it difficult when pedestrians are present, when bikes are coming in another direction or when faster bikes need to pass. There’s plenty of room to make the sidewalk wider. Especially if the Navy gives up a few feet of unused grassland behind their big chain link fence. Time for the City, County, FDOT and Navy to talk.

When we asked FDOT about this they said:

“The section of sidewalk that you mention (along the south side of the road from the bridge to the Triangle) is outside of our project limits.”

We Need to Make It Safer to Bike Between Key West and Stock Island

In our June 17, 2022 story 10 Things to Make It Safer to Bike from the 667 New Housing Units on Stock Island to Key West and our September 2, 2022 story Wreckers Cay and County Need to Do Better By New Residents Who Want to Ride Bikes Between Stock Island and Key West we make the case that we have great conditions in Key West and Stock Island for bicycling as we’re flat, compact and have good weather 12 months of the year. 15% of us already bike to work. But more of us should and would if it were safer and easier to do so. With much of our workforce living on Stock Island, the City, County and FDOT need to work together to mitigate the impacts of the unsafe segments in our bicycle network to create a seamless and safe way to cross the Cheryl Cates Bridge on bikes to get to work instead of defaulting to a car. We’ll fight congestion, parking problems and make for a cleaner, more prosperous, and happier community if we get even more people biking more of the time.

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 Snags $400K Federal Safe Streets Planning Grant That May Lead To Additional Construction Dollars

By Chris Hamilton. This story is cross posted in KONK Life newspaper on February 3, 2023Follow 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.

On February 1 the U.S. Department of Transportation announced $800 million in grant awards for 510 projects throughout the country from a new Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A) Grant Program to help localities tackle traffic fatalities. Thanks to some smart work by City staff, the City of Key West is one of the 510 projects, receiving $400,000 for planning with the possibility of even more for constructing infrastructure in the future. This is important because our little island is full of cars and bikes and all manner of e-vehicles and scooters sharing our compact streets. Funding can help jumpstart needed infrastructure changes called for in our Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan and Vision Zero policy to make our streets safer.

Great to See Key West Get Funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law

In announcing the competitive grant program, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said:

“Every year, crashes cost tens of thousands of American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars to our economy; we face a national emergency on our roadways, and it demands urgent action,” said U.S. Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “We are proud that these grants will directly support hundreds of communities as they prepare steps that are proven to make roadways safer and save lives.”    

The Safe Streets & Roads for All Grants established by the Biden Administration’s “Bipartisan Infrastructure Law” provides $5 billion over five years. Approximately $1B is set aside for this first round that provides funding to develop Comprehensive Safety Action Plans to meet Vision Zero goals. The second round of about $4B is set aside to implement those plans with infrastructure.

Key West’s Vision Zero Sets the Stage

In 2020, Key West called for a Vision Zero goal to eliminate roadway fatalities and serious injuries by 2035. Says Multi-Modal Transportation Coordinator Ryan Stachurski, who wrote the $400,000 “Key West City-Wide Comprehensive Safety Action Plan” grant:

“We hope that with public engagement and collaboration, we can produce policy and process recommendations to develop a well-defined strategy to prevent roadway fatalities. But once we create our plan, we have to do something with it. An important aspect of this grant opportunity is that the program managers don’t want to just create plans. Once we identify opportunities, there is an option for implementation funding.

This opportunity is important to me because pedestrians and bicyclists – as vulnerable road users – are disproportionally affected by roadway collisions. But our entire community suffers when tragedy strikes on our shared streets. Developing a plan is a step toward achieving our Vision Zero goal.”

Mr. Stachurski graciously added: “Writing this grant was a team effort with Christine Lane of Langton Consulting, Carolyn Sheldon, Alison Higgins, and the support of City Management: all working to make our city safer.”

Key West Community Support Needed

As staff moves forward on developing a “Key West City-Wide Comprehensive Safety Action Plan” they’ll lean on the Key West Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan and Vision Zero policy but will really need the community to step up and identify priorities for what to do with any potential second round funding.

This couldn’t come at a more opportune moment. Last year three bike riders were killed in crashes on Key West and Stock Island. And we’ve talked about how Key West is full of cars AND bikes and e-vehicles and how that often unsafe mix is different from most places. So having some planning money to identify the most needed projects and the opportunity to get more funds to actually build some infrastructure is a huge get for our little island.

Congratulations to the forward-thinking staff who enabled this. As a community we need to support them and the process. In the end, everyone stands to benefit from safer streets. People in cars, on bikes and on two feet.

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 and FDOT Fail, Again, to Follow Key West Bike Plan. This Time On Whitehead Street

By Chris Hamilton. This story is cross posted in KONK Life newspaper on January 27, 2023Follow 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.

On January 18, FDOT officials presented City Commissioners with an update about three projects about to begin construction in Key West. One of those is a $2.6M project on Whitehead Street between Truman and Fleming (the portion of the street that is part of U.S. Route 1 and thus FDOT’s) to reconstruct and repave the street and to replace damaged sidewalks. The City’s adopted Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan calls for protected bike lanes on this street. Instead, we’ll get essentially what we have now, 33 spaces for private car storage and no bike lanes.

We’ve heard this story before. On S. Roosevelt Boulevard. On First and Bertha Streets. On Palm Avenue. And now on Whitehead Street. The adopted Bike Plan calls for all of these to get bicycle infrastructure. In each case car convenience was chosen over bicycle safety. When asked why we aren’t building bicycle infrastructure in these projects FDOT, County and City officials circle the wagons and roll out a litany of bureaucratic double-speak to explain how they really care about building safer streets, but it just couldn’t happen in this case because well…

  • people need parking,
  • there’s not enough right-of-way,
  • think of the trees,
  • it would cost more money,
  • the design was made before the Bike Plan was adopted,
  • it would impact our schedule, or
  • no bike advocates showed up to the meeting and asked.

Having multiple agencies involved in these particular projects helps each escape responsibility. In this case the City says it isn’t their street and FDOT says they consulted with the City, and this is what they wanted. The exact same thing happened on First and Bertha between the County and City.

There were three bike riders killed in crashes on Key West and Stock Island last year. Key West is full of cars AND bikes. That’s different than most places. And our Mayor keeps asking for bike lanes. And yet the prevailing bias for car convenience in all three bureaucracies makes change extremely difficult. And so once again, it looks like we’ll get Sharrows instead of bike lanes and that’s not safer for anybody.

The Bike Plan and City Strategic Plan Point the Way Forward

The Key West Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Transportation Plan, adopted in March of 2019 after two years and spending nearly $300,000 is an exceptional plan produced by the world-class engineering, urban design and planning firm Toole Design. It had a ton of public input, was thoroughly vetted and Commission approved. (For an overview read: Key West, Let’s Radically Speed Up the Implementation of Our Bike/Ped Plan, May 20, 2020.

One of the reasons for the Plan is because the State requires localities to have approved plans in order to seek State funding for projects and so when the State or local government do projects there is some guidance for what to do.

The Key West Forward Strategic Plan, adopted in 2021 emphasizes Traffic and Pedestrian Friendliness as one of the six overarching priorities, specifically to “improve the ease and safety of residents and visitors as they traverse the island.” Goal 1 of this priority reads: “Complete Streets: Ensure safe and more accessible bike and pedestrian routes in accordance with the Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan…Improve and expand bicycle and pedestrian trails and implement the three overarching goals in the Bike/Ped Plan.”

Whitehead Street is addressed as needing “separated bike lanes” in the Vision or Long-Term Plan on pages 34 and 72 as explained on page 46.

Optimal Time to Put In Bike Infrastructure Is During Street Rebuilding/Repaving

Duval Street during it’s rebuild/repaving during Covid. Note the curbs are being redone. THAT’S the perfect opportunity to do something different.

The optimal time to put in new bicycle infrastructure is when a street is rebuilt (such as in the case of Whitehead Street) or when it is repaved. So, the opportunity to implement the Vision Plan presented itself when FDOT said they were rebuilding the street because that’s when the curb line, if needed can be moved, that’s when tree wells can be moved and so on. And once a street is repaved it can be painted in any configuration you want.

So, if anyone at City Hall had the guts to actually follow the plan in the face of losing private car storage and moving some trees, this would have been the time to speak up. OR it would have been the time, as the Mayor has asked, time and again, to bring some options to the City Commission. But FDOT and City staff determined that because parking and tree removal are political third rails in this town they were simply going to opt for the existing short-term plan and default to Sharrows.

Sharrows Are Make Believe Safety Infrastructure

Sharrows on Staples Avenue.

Sharrows are short for shared lane markings. They are used to indicate a shared lane environment for bicycles and automobiles. They are supposed to reinforce the legitimacy of bicycle traffic in the street and recommend proper positioning of the bicyclist.

Google “are Sharrows safe” and you’ll get a string of articles, none of which are flattering about this supposed “infrastructure.” Up pops “ineffective.” “Unsafe.” “Worse than Nothing At All.” But my favorite is “Sharrows Are Bullshit.” Yes, that’s the title of an excellent article by Peter Flax. I highly recommend reading the entire thing, but here it is in a nutshell:

“Sharrows are perfect for city officials who care enough about safety to do the very least. There’s only one problem: Sharrows are make believe safety infrastructure.”

2-minute video from Miami on what a Sharrow is, why cities use them instead of bike lanes and why this is bad.

The Project We’re Getting for Whitehead Street Looks an Awful Lot Like It Does Today

Plan view from FDOT’s presentation. Click on picture for full presentation.

The plan presented by FDOT for this stretch of Whitehead Street calls for the street to be rebuilt and repaved. Sidewalks will be fixed. Broken curbs mended. Signage will be improved, and pedestrian beg buttons will be upgraded. And best of all, as FDOT touts in nice red writing, 33 of the existing 38 car storage spaces will be kept. In a nod to what they say is a safety improvement, some car parking spaces will be removed near intersections and driveways so as to improve sight lines, making it easier for people in cars to exit onto the street and not have to contend with trying to see around those mega vehicles so prevalent today, without hitting people. The street will no doubt be shiny and new, but it is essentially the same street. And no bike improvements. We get those good for nothing Sharrows.

Are Master Plans Only Good for Gathering Dust? We Asked Advocates, FDOT and the City

We asked some bicycle advocates what they thought about the Whitehead Street plan presented by FDOT and here’s what Evan Haskell, owner of the WeCycle bike shops on Stock Island and Key West told us:

“Just a couple meetings ago, the City Commission gave 6 acres of public land to the airport, with nothing in exchange. That land was identified in our master plan as a critical connector for the hundreds of residents in the Ocean Walk and Las Salinas apartments. Only Commissioner Kaufman protested that appalling giveaway. Now, we learn that staff continue to ignore the Bicycle Master Plan in their daily operations and the upcoming Whitehead Street project will include no improvements for cycling. Unfortunately, we are seeing again that in this City, Master Plans are only good for one thing – gathering dust.”

When we asked FDOT if they’d consulted the plan their Communication Manager Tish Burgher said:

“Regarding the City’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, the FDOT Design Team reviewed it; however, it was determined that incorporating bike lanes would impact trees located within the utility strip and also require widening the road, acquiring potential easements, removing parking spaces, and adding additional storm water drainage improvements. The associated costs would result in an increase of approximately $3.5 million and would impact the schedule of this project.”

They went on to further explain that when they met with City staff in March of 2020, everyone agreed “to include Sharrows with sign routes for bicyclists, instead of separate lanes due to the scope and limited right-of-way in this project.” FDOT was adamant, they coordinated and got approvals from the City.

We asked the City the same questions as FDOT and didn’t get an official response.

Again, if you are literally going to rebuild the street, curb and gutter and sidewalk, that would have been the time to do something brave. Even at the cost of parking, a few trees and more money. Alas, we get Sharrows.

After our deadline for KONK Life news we did get a response from our friend Alison Higgins, the City’s Sustainability Coordinator saying:

“We’re taking the longview on the separated lanes for Whitehead and Simonton. Because we’ll never have the political will to remove parking without an alternative, we’re working on off street parking options for those areas.  We’ll be doing renderings of  six different roof deck parking options this year to start the ball rolling on that. Once we get alternative parking, we can remove the existing parking, and get the bike lanes we desire.”

Going Forward, Let’s Do Better By People on Bikes

It seems like the last few years haven’t seen progress on bike lanes in our City. But we’ve got a great Bike Plan and a Strategic Plan that emphasizes getting bike projects done. We have a Mayor who gets it and has asked that every repaving project consider bike lanes. We also have a fairly new and progressive team in the Engineering Department in the persons of Interim Engineering Director Gary Volenec and Multi-Modal Transportation Coordinator Ryan Stachurski who weren’t around when these projects were approved by others. And we think our friend Alison’s take above bodes well for the future. So we’re hopeful.

Key West is full of cars AND bikes. That’s different than most places. We are one of the few places in the country where so many bikes, pedestrians and e-bikes/scooters share our compact streets with vehicles. Add the fact that many of the folks out there are visitors from the mainland, unfamiliar with this, makes for an unsafe mix on our streets. So, we can no longer accept that status quo of always taking the easy path of what we’ve been doing before. We need to do things differently. We need our staff and politicians to be brave enough to lose some parking or car lanes and make our streets safer. Our island will be better for it. Let’s lay down a marker here and say from now on we expect better by everyone involved.

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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 / The Lofts Moves Forward With Less Car Parking and More Bike Racks

By Chris Hamilton. This story is cross posted in KONK Life newspaper on January 20, 2023. 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.

On January 18, the one-year anniversary of city residents approving a referendum to lease 3.2 acres of City-owned land in Bahama Village to a non-profit group for 126 units of much needed workforce housing, the City Commission approved final plans allowing the project to move forward to construction with a groundbreaking ceremony in May. That’s great news! Best of all, the initially proposed 180+ surface car parking spaces have been nearly cut in half to 99 while bicycle parking went from 20 proposed spaces to 121. City staff, the Planning Board and City Commission acknowledged the site’s central location with good transit, walk, and bike access to downtown and citing similar neighboring properties less than full parking lots, allowed for the car parking reduction. That’s a win for common sense, our historic downtown and the project.

The Big Picture: Putting Workforce Housing Downtown Is a Good Thing

In a story we did last year leading up to the referendum, 3 Reasons You May Not Have Thought of for Voting YES on 3.2 on January, 18, January 7, 2022, we acknowledged the real need for more workforce housing and said more of it should be on the island of Key West. We especially applauded the proposed Lofts at Bahama Village project for three reasons:

  1. More locals living downtown creates a more local focused, less touristy vibe and that’s good for the 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 further for residents of the project.

Win. Win. Win.

But Lots of Surface Parking Was Initially Proposed – And That’s Bad

After the referendum passed and the project moved to the planning phase we argued in a story on February 4 that Too Much Surface Parking at The Lofts Is a Wasteful use of Valuable Downtown Land. At the time, Executive Director of A.H. Monroe Scott Pridgen, the leader of the non-profit coalition selected to build The Lofts said: “We currently propose 126 units…with 189 parking spaces.” As we dug in further, we found that City Code required 131 spaces (1 car parking space per unit + some handicapped spaces) and that in addition to these Mr. Pridgen was counting 48 spaces in the crescent parking lot adjacent to The Lofts and included in their site plans, already built at Truman Waterfront Park. The 131 spaces weren’t built yet, and they were going to take up a lot of land because given the height limitation, to maximize the number of units (126) meant the cars couldn’t be parked under the buildings.

Months later, as the project moved toward the Development Review Committee (DRC) in September, we learned that 126 new surface parking spaces (now inclusive of the handicapped spaces) were still being required on the site. The 48 spaces in the crescent still sat there unused and uncounted in the projection. 13 bicycle parking spaces were being required and 20 were proposed. In a letter to the DRC, we asked why there wasn’t more bicycle parking and questioned why there wasn’t any parking reduction, taking into account the project’s access to downtown, good transit, biking and walking options and access to those 48 spaces.

The Navy’s Rules Nudge Developer/City to Build Less Car-Parking and More Bike Parking

As the project moved through DRC to the Planning Board the Navy objected to parking within 50 ft of their property housing the Navy communications tower, referred to as the TACTS Tower. This necessitated the project developer to rethink the parking scheme and propose the following:

Required Parking: 1 space per multifamily unit = 126 spaces

Provided Parking:

  • Proposed New Parking: 8 ADA + 75 Standard = 83 new spaces
  • Truman Park Waterfront Parking: 16 Spaces through a parking agreement with the City
  • Bicycle Substitution: 108 new bicycle spaces (in addition to the 13 required) for 27 vehicle spaces (bike parking can be substituted for some parking at a 4-1 ratio)

Total Provided: 126 spaces

In essence, the required 126 car parking spaces on the site are being reduced to 83 for a 34% overall reduction in the amount of new surface parking. Not bad. Some of that (16 spaces) would be made up for by dedicating 16 of the 48 existing parking spaces in the crescent lot adjacent to the project in the Truman Waterfront Park for use exclusively by residents of The Lofts. And the big reduction comes by reducing car parking by 27 spaces and providing parking for 108 additional bicycles instead. So, there will be dedicated parking for 99 cars (83 on the site and 16 in the crescent) and 121 bicycles. Much more in line with the realities of downtown living.

Nagging Questions About that Crescent Shaped Parking Lot

We still don’t understand why only 16 of the 48 parking spaces in the crescent shaped lot, depicted as part of the 3.2 acres in the referendum and initial planning documents, can be used by the project residents. Especially as one member of the Planning Board and our own research have observed, those spaces are never, ever occupied. They just sit empty all year round. If the remaining 32 empty spaces could be used by The Lofts residents too, perhaps Allen Avenue wouldn’t need perpendicular car parking dedicated to private use on public right of way and could be a pedestrian-friendly street. Perhaps some of the land adjacent to the buildings given over to all that asphalt could be used for more landscaping or a tot-lot or fire pits and grills for the residents? Or even a few more units of workforce housing.

We’ll likely never get a satisfactory answer that makes sense on this.

Half a Loaf Is Better Than None And It Is Good the Project Is Moving Forward

So, while we might lament the fact that there’s tons of underutilized parking right next door that could have been used to reduce the amount of land dedicated to new asphalt, we’re inclined to accept half a loaf is better than none. The big picture here is that much needed workforce housing is coming to downtown. And the amount of land dedicated to car parking was in the end reduced by one third. That and there’s much more bicycle parking included in the final project.

More working residents living in the heart of downtown is good for our business district as it brings more local flavor. The central location allows new residents of the project to not have to drive to get to work, shop and play. That can save them some money on the huge cost of owning and operating a vehicle. Win. Win. Win.

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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 / Three Crashes = 3 Bicycle Rider Deaths Leads 2022’s Top 10 Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People Stories

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on December 16, 2022 and is reprinted here with permission. Follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here.

Breaking ground on an expanded airport. Planning for refurbishing Mallory Square, revitalizing Duval Street, renovating the Diesel Plant and building a new Clinton Square. Introducing Llama scooters, “Key West Rides” On-Demand Transit and maybe soon Freebee transit. Sorry bus stops, QR code Loop stops and Final Mile Lower Keys Shuttle bus stops. Salt Ponds and Smathers Beach bike trails envisioned, and Wickers bike trail planned. Votes on 3.2, Mayor and District IV. A City strategic plan that gets stuff done. Workforce housing at Wreckers Cay opens, nears completion at Garden View and is in planning at The Lofts and Roy’s Trailer Park. Kmart closed. Searstown is bought. N. Roosevelt reimagined. First and Bertha Streets construction goes on and on. Three cars crash into bikes = 3 bicycle rider deaths. These are just some of the bike, walk, transit and streets for people developments that happened during the year.

As 2022 comes to an end, for the fourth year in a row we’re going to try to make some sense of all this and rank the issues we’ve been covering by their importance from number 10 to number 1. We’ll try to provide some insight on our reasoning and updates along the way.

10 – Scooter Share Comes to Key West

Our story Innovative Lama E-Scooter Share Comes to Key WestMarch 18, 2022 shows the e-revolution finally landed in Key West.  In March, local entrepreneur and hotel owner Marc Meisel opened at 48 e-scooter pilot at his three properties H20 Suites, Santa Maria Suites and Southwinds Motel called Lama Mobility. He needed a Commission-approved pilot because the City is still in the midst of a now going on three-years moratorium on recreational vehicles rentals. 

The service is innovative because, unlike controversial dockless e-scooter shares in other cities that get left on the street, Lama operates as a round trip rental. Putting the scooter away in a dock solves the problem of needing to charge the vehicle. And by putting the docks on private property Mr. Meisel got around the problem the City doesn’t allow these kinds of operations in the City right-of-way – an Achilles heel that doomed attempts at Key West based private bikesharepublic bikeshare and Zipcar carshare. Best of all, anyone at least 18 years of age can use the scooters, not just hotel guests.

The pilot is important because if it proves successful, Mr. Meisel could expand it across the City and even include bikes in the docks in addition to the scooters, thus instantly providing bike AND scooter share. The more options residents, workers and visitors have to get around, the better!

9 – Airport Expansion Can Mean Fewer Cars and Opens Up the Possibility for Two New Bike Trails

A couple months ago the County broke ground on a $100 million expansion of Key West Airport. Our story Airport’s Need for Additional City Land Could Help Spur Salt Ponds and Smathers Beach Locals Bike Trails, February 11, 2022 discusses how the County’s need for a little bit of additional land in the area of the Hawks Missile site may help spur the building of two bike trails identified in the City’s Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan. The Salt Ponds Trail would connect the communities of Ocean Walk, Las Salinas and Seaside with a time-saving and safer short-cut downtown through the back of the airport. The Smathers Beach Trail would provide a safe and time-saving trail from the High School directly to the beach behind the pink Key West By the Sea building. Both trails would be good for local residents and workers.

Our April 8 story Ten Ways to Make Car-Free Key West a Reality for Visitors – Part 1: Marketing, and the April 15 follow-up 10 Ways to make Car-Free Key West a Reality for Visitors – Part 2: Services, Infrastructure and Policies discusses how the airport expansion means fewer cars on our island IF we do the following:

  1. Educate visitors they don’t need a car – before they get here.
  2. Educate visitors about transportation options – once they’ve arrived.
  3. Direct visitor to existing long-term lots with better wayfinding.
  4. Enlist the help of recreational vehicle rental companies.
  5. End free on-street parking for visitors.
  6. Make the Duval Loop every 15 minutes, again.
  7. Install more green paint and bike racks.
  8. Lift the moratorium on recreational vehicles.
  9. Build the parking lot/garage on Stock Island.
  10. Increase ferries and add “buses-as-flights.” 

Key West is getting more and more visitors and most of them arrive by car. This makes the airport expansion important because it provides an opportunity to get these travelers onto bikes, buses, and e-scooters to get around. IF we make it easy for them to use these options. The choice is ours.

8 – City Adopts E-Bike/E-Scooter Regulations

In our most read story of the year Here’s the Real Lowdown on the Do’s and Don’ts for E-Bikes and E-Scooters in Key West, January 28, 2022 we discussed e-bikes and e-scooters. Everyone has seen more and more of these vehicles. And while they provide a real and inexpensive alternative for residents to commute and get around, lots of people find their speed and use on our sidewalks dangerous. So, the City Commission adopted some new rules based on changes at the State level. That’s important! We went into the details about how all of this came about and the fine distinctions in the law, but here’s a summary of the new rules:

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

7 – Workforce Housing Coming to Downtown; But Parking Issues Remain

That we need more affordable workforce housing in Key West is something we can all agree on. In our story 3 Reasons You May Not Have Thought of for Voting YES on 3.2 on January 18, January 7, 2022 we talked about how:

  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.

But even as we applauded that the referendum passed to give A.H. Monroe a 99-year lease on City land in Bahama Village next to the Truman Waterfront Park to build 126 units called The Lofts, we were concerned about the then proposed 189 surface parking spaces. Especially given the abundant and little-used parking on surrounding properties. We detailed those concerns, as well as conducted a parking study and presented alternatives for reducing the amount of surface parking and turning the land saved from asphalt into amenities for the residents or even more units in our story Too Much Surface Parking at The Lofts Is a Wasteful Use of Valuable Downtown Land, February 3, 2022. We’ll note that the project is still making its way through the Planning process, and we hope City leaders wake up to the fact that the proposed abundant and ugly surface parking looks like it belongs on the mainland in Boca Raton and not in a compact, historic downtown. We need the City to consider sharing the use of some of the unused Truman Waterfront Park parking and reducing the asphalt on this site. 

6 – Kmart Closes and Searstown Plaza Being Bought by Publix Provides Opportunity to Reimagine Sites Into Island-Friendly Centers With Workforce Housing

In January we learned that Kmart was closing in March and that the Publix Corporation had bought the entire Searstown Plaza. In our third most popular story of the year Time to Reimagine Car-Centric, Mainland Style Searstown and Kmart into Island-Friendly Centers with Housing, January 21, 2022 we talked about the possibilities these two news items presented. We discussed in detail how Publix was building mixed-use, urban centers with housing in other parts of the country and how the City had some incentives to redevelop with workforce housing and what it could look like. We closed with:

“Kmart closing and Searstown being bought by Publix offer a golden opportunity to remake these mainland style, suburban parking lots into mixed-use centers that are nice to look at, more pedestrian and bicycle friendly and that include a mix of uses, including much needed affordable workforce housing, that exude Key West charm….In the end our whole island will be better for remaking these outdated strip shopping centers, that look like they belong in another place and time, not our beloved Key West.”

5 – New Housing Comes to Stock Island Sparking Need for Better Transit and Bike Facilities Between the Islands

Stock Island was in the news a lot this year as the 280-unit Wreckers Cay started opening buildings for occupancy in September, the 104-unit Garden View Apartments is fast under construction, Roy’s Trailer Park was sold to be redeveloped from 108 trailers to 240 workforce apartments and 148 transient condos were approved at the Key West Harbor Yacht Club. That’s a lot of new housing. So in stories Stock Island and Lower Keys Workforce Housing Needs Frequent Transit, March 11, 2022 and Traffic Nightmare Looms as 132 Housing Units Added to 700 in the Pipeline on Stock Island and the Lower Keys, May 20, 2022 we detailed what’s happening and made the case for the City and County to ramp up transit to serve all these new residents lest U.S. Route 1 and the Cheryl H. Cates Bridge get overrun by cars.

In our story Freebee On-Demand Ride-Hailing-to-Transit Might Provide Stock Island Residents With Reason to Leave Their Cars at Home, July 22, 2022 we talked about an $850,000 project the County is considering to provide residents with an Uber-like lift to a future long-haul frequent transit service direct to downtown as a partial solution. And in our story Wreckers Cay and County Need to Do Better By New Residents Who Want to Ride Bikes Between Stock Island and Key West, September 2, 2022 we detailed how woefully inadequate the current efforts are to help new residents at Wreckers Cay to bike to Key West.

We can’t keep building car-dependent housing for workers five+ miles from downtown and not provide them with good, reliable, and safe bus and bike options, otherwise all these new residents will drive and worsen our traffic and parking congestion.

4 –Key West Transit Starts to Turn Around a Sinking Ship

Buffeted by Covid, a shortage of workers and a lack of investment in the system our Key West Transit bus service has been rocked by declining ridership over the last few years. We’ve amply covered this decline in stories including this year in The Sorry State of Key West Bus Stops Revisited – What’s Happening One Year Later, May 6, 2022   and Duval Loop Ridership is Plummeting. Save the Duval Loop! June 3, 2020, where we discussed the awful state of bus stops on the Duval Loop, City Routes, and Lower Keys Shuttle and how this combined with a lack of frequency and non-branded plain white buses was causing ridership on the Loop to nosedive. But toward the second half of the year, it seemed things started to change a bit for the better.

In our story Staff Takes Bull By Horns and Upgrades Embarrassing Duval Loop Bus Stop Signs, August 20, 2022 we talked about how some enterprising staff took it upon themselves to not wait for a bigger fix a few years out and instead fabricated some quick but elegant signs with a QR Code that takes people to real-time information on the whereabouts of the next Duval Loop bus. It works wonderfully. And then last month in City to Begin Work On Making It Easy to Bike to lower Keys Shuttle and Enhancing Bus Stops from Marathon to Key West, November 4, 2022 we detailed a $1.4 million project, now underway, to add bike racks, information signs, lights and trash/recycle cans to 74 Lower Keys Shuttle bus stops between Marathon and Key West. And the transit agency says they have plans to duplicate this project on the rest of the stops in Key West in the coming years. That’s a big deal for a system that has third-world level bus stops.

As we’ve documented in many stories over the last couple of years the buses have been getting less frequent and the ridership has been declining. Seeing no way to hire enough drivers to increase frequency substantially on fixed-route lines, Key West Transit is trying something completely out of the box. Instead, like Uber, they’ll run a bus when a customer requests a ride. In stories City’s Uber-Like On-Demand Transit Service is Back On Track, June 24, 2022 and Key West Transit’s Uber-Like On-Demand “Key West Rides” Service Begins November 30, November 18, 2022 we discuss the behind the scenes maneuvering to make this happen and how the system works. The new on-demand service called “Key West Rides” started November 30 and by January 1 the North and South Line fixed-routes will disappear, meaning if you want a bus ride on Key West or Stock Island, you’ll need to download the app and request a trip. So far over 400 people have done so.

In our story Key West Transit’s New On-Demand Service Is Off and Running. Now the City Needs to Put Real Marketing Money Into It, December 9, 2022, we talked about how the City needs to spend some real money and hire a marketing contractor to leverage the investment in the new way of riding and make sure it is successful. If it is, that’s good for our residents and workers especially and that’s why this was such an important development coming in at #4.

3 – Downtown Revitalization Back On Track

For a few years we’ve championed investing in our historic downtown. It’s the reason for our Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown name and “Streets for People” column. Key West citizens have long discussed and tried to grapple with refurbishing Mallory Square, revitalizing Duval Street, renovating the historic Diesel Plant, building housing on the 3.2-acre Bahama Village site, and cleaning up Clinton Square in front of the Custom’s House for a decade plus. We lamented that the history of each project was strewn with false promises, hopeful beginnings, and dashed dreams. In a story at the beginning of the year, Mallory Square, Diesel Plant, Duval Street and Bahama Village Housing Projects Create Synergy to Bolster Downtown, January 14, 2022 we discussed how we could start to see light at the end of the tunnel as each of these projects was just getting underway.

In a story this fall, Progress on Five Historic District Projects means More Life, Locals, Prosperity, and Resiliency for Our Downtown, October 21, 2022, we talked about how the accountability built into the City’s Strategic Plan (see our #1 item) was delivering real progress on all five of these projects. Clinton Square Park is now under construction. The planning process for the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square Master Plan is well underway and will be completed this winter. Interim work on the Diesel Plant will start soon and a solicitation for a developer will happen in the spring. The Lofts at Bahama Village are expected to start construction in the spring too. And the new Duval Street Economic Corridor Resiliency and Revitalization Plan process completed ranking planning firms to be hired in October. A vendor should be under contract shortly.

The actions, all happening in quick and overlapping succession, with plenty of resident and business community input, are giving us a synergy to bolster our entire historic downtown commercial district, the lifeblood of our city, for decades to come. It means more prosperity for our local Mom-and-Pop shops, a more locals focused destination for residents and enhanced experiences for visitors. THAT’s why this is such an important story and comes in at #3.

2 – Three Bicyclist’s Deaths Bring Bicycle Safety Concerns to Forefront

Sadly, and tragically, there were three instances of cars crashing into bikes that resulted in three deaths by bicyclists on Stock Island and Key West in 2022. In each case the person on the bicycle was following the rules of the road. We chronicled two of the three deaths in our story Two Fatal Bike Crashes This Week Are Two Too Many. Here’s 10 Things To Make Bicycling Safer, November 12, 2022. 

In the story we provided data about how Key West is full of cars AND bikes and that’s different than most cities. As we are different, we suggested 10 things we should do:

1 – Slow down. This ain’t the mainland.
2 – Educate visitors this isn’t the mainland and that they must behave differently on our little island’s streets.
3 – Enforce existing speed limits.
4 – Engineer our streets for slower speeds.
5 – Invest in new and upgraded bicycle facilities
6 – Connect all of our bicycle facilities in one seamless network.
7 – For a change, let’s choose people on bikes over car storage and convenience.
8 – Do something about N. Roosevelt Boulevard.
9 – Safety in numbers: Get more people, especially visitors out of their cars.
10 – Install speed and red-light cameras and eliminate right-turn-on-red.

It doesn’t help matters that the County and City have for years been behind the eight-ball when it comes to putting in infrastructure that would make bicycling safer. The elephant in the room is our story Construction on First and Bertha Street Doesn’t Follow the Bike Plan. Is It Too Late? July 8, 2022, where we lay out the sad reality that when the County and City were presented with an opportunity to put in a bike facility, called for in the City’s adopted Bike/Ped Plan, on an important cross island throughway, they chose to ignore making it safer for bikes and put in parking instead. THIS has been repeated in street projects across the City. Duval Street, Simonton Street, Whitehead Street, Front Street, and Palm Avenue have all been resurfaced and rebuilt in the last two years. And it is going to happen in the future on S. Roosevelt – they just haven’t started construction yet. In every case the Bike/Ped plan calls for bicycle facilities on these streets and roads. And in Every. Single. Case. The City and County put or will put the road back together with a shiny new surface and the same old parking spaces that were there before. No new bike facilities. Not even green paint. You’ll hear City officials tout the new and improved asphalt. Yep. That’s nice. But it’s lipstick on a pig when it comes to making our streets safer for people on bicycles.

In our story 10 Things to Make It Safer to Bike from the 667 New Housing Units on Stock Island to Key West, June 17, 2022 we lay out the case for 10 things the City and County can do to make it safer for people to bike between the two islands and in our story Wreckers Cay and County Need to Do Better By New Residents Who Want to Ride Bikes Between Stock Island and Key West, September 2, 2022 we lay out similar arguments. We’re still waiting to hear from any officials that they hear bicyclist’s plight.

Three deaths in one year are a wakeup call to County and City officials that more needs to be done. This isn’t rocket science. The City spends $6 million annually on transit service. They spend god awful amounts on parking amenities. On bike infrastructure, its only thousands of dollars unless the State gives the City money in grant funds like with the bike racks for the Final Mile Grant or the Wickers Field Bike Trail. It is time to turn the car-centric paradigm upside down and finally spend some real money on bike facilities, green paint, signs, and marketing and education to make our islands safer to bike on. THAT’s why this story is #2 in our countdown.

1 – Mayor’s Re-Election and Strategic Plan Help Get Things Done and THAT Bodes Well for the Future

We want our top story to end on a more hopeful note. Despite the fact that people on bikes feel unsafe and that people who want to take the bus still don’t have a proven and reliable alternative to driving just yet, there’s hope on the horizon. That hope starts with our story PeopleforBikes’ 2022 City Ratings Ranks Key West 15th in North America. What Can We Achieve If We Really Try? Our Mayor Says #1, July 1, 2022. Of 1,105 cities rated by PeopleforBikes, Key West rated #15 as a best biking city. Yay! But the data reveled that the reason we ranked so high was because we’re flat, compact and have good weather – so lots of us bike. Not necessarily because of anything the City or County have done to make using a bike safe and easy. But the good news is that our Mayor and City officials understand this. Here’s Mayor Johnston’s response to the PeopleforBikes ranking:

“We are moving in the right direction but frustratingly slowly. As gas prices increase, this is a perfect time to offer our locals a cost-effective way to get to and from work and our guests a healthy alternative to driving which can reduce noise and congestion on our streets. I continue to be concerned about the number of our streets that are ranked “high stress” by the people who actually ride on them even after we have lowered our speed limits. Our guests are getting on bikes sometimes for the first time since they were teenagers, so it is important that we continue to improve bicycle safety throughout our island.

Having said that, we are awaiting the results from engineering on the feasibility of a one-way street grid that would accommodate a dedicated bicycle lane on each street to improve bicycle safety and reduce congestion. Unfortunately, we squandered an opportunity to incorporate “complete streets” to the long-awaited South Roosevelt Boulevard road construction project which could have taken bicycles off of the sidewalk and given them a safe, dedicated bicycle lane. Once again, we missed an opportunity to add bicycle lanes on First and Bertha. We cannot improve our bicycle safety unless bicycle lanes are prioritized at the beginning of every city infrastructure project.

The Commission voted unanimously to focus on advancing our Bicycle/Pedestrian Master Plan (circa 1996, 2010, 2019) via our Strategic operational plan by adding bike rack space for 128 bikes at bus stops via the Final Mile program by August and another 250 bikes by the end of this month, enhancing 10 intersections for bicycle safety starting in September and initiate a shared street pilot program by December of this year.

We have a perfect island to bike around. We have limited space to accommodate a great number of competing interests. We must use our space more efficiently and thoughtfully in the future.  I maintain high hopes that we are the #1 bicycling small community in the near future.”

In our story Key West Mayoral and District IV Candidates in Their Own Words on Bike, Walk and Transit Issues, August 5, 2022 we go into detail about how our Mayor understands the shortcomings of past bicycle and transit actions and is determined to make it better. In short, our says our Mayor on bikes:

“As Mayor, I will continue to prioritize dedicated bicycle lanes and complete streets on all new road construction in Key West.” And on transit: “The solution is to provide a free, frequent and reliable public transportation system.” Her vision is extraordinary. 

Our story The Mayor’s Strategic Plan is Helping the City Bureaucracy Get Stuff Done, September 16, 2022 provides the crux for a hopeful future on bike, walk, transit and streets for people issues. 

Key West has a reputation for muddling along and well, let’s face it, not addressing the big things. Decades later we wonder how our problems got so bad. Think our lack of affordable workforce housing, our crumbling roads and sidewalks, traffic and parking congestion, our moribund transit system and withering on the vine projects such as Duval Street, Mallory Square, the Diesel Plant and so much more. Not to mention sea level rise and our degrading environment. But Mayor Johnston said we could do better by developing and following a strategic plan to do the things the citizens think are the most important. And to her credit she got that plan developed and passed.

What’s amazing, rather than in the finest Key West tradition of putting the plan on the shelf and congratulating themselves, she insisted on some mechanisms for accountability and implementation. And lo and behold, during the past year, a TON of stuff has been accomplished. Everything we just mentioned is in the works. Most of the stories from a new transit service, better bike facilities, plans for Mallory Square, Duval Street, affordable housing, and so much more in the above-mentioned articles are because they are embedded in the Strategic Plan. 

There’s no question the Plan is concentrating the Manager, department heads and staff on what’s essential and not just responding to the loudest complainers in a game of whack a mole as bureaucracies tend to do when they aren’t pointed in the right direction. The results from 2022 and the new momentum make the next few years look even more fruitful. That means a better Key West future for all of us and THAT’S why this is our #1 story of the year. HOPE!

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And for those that are interested, here’s a look at our most popular stories for 2022 as measured by readership:

10 – 10 Things To Make It Safer to Bike From the 667 New Housing Units on Stock Island to Key West, June 17, 2022
9 – Ian’s Lesson: Key West Infrastructure Needs to Be as Resilient as Its People, October 7, 2022
8 – The Sorry State of Key West Bust Stops Revisited – What’s Happening One Year Later, May 6, 2022
7 – Innovative Lama E-Scooter Share Comes to Key West, March 18, 2022
6 – Traffic Nightmare Looms as 132 New Housing Units Added to Over 700 in the Pipeline on Stock Island and Lower Keys, May 20, 2022
– Key West Mayoral and District IV Candidates in Their Own Words on Bike, Walk and Transit Issues, August 5, 2022
4 – Two Fatal Bike Crashes This Week Are Two Too Many. Here’s 10 Things to Make Bicycling Safer, November 12, 2022
3 – Time to Reimagine Car-Centric, Mainland Style Searstown and Kmart Into Island-Friendly Centers with Housing, January 21, 2022
2 – Stock Island and Lower Keys Workforce Housing Needs Frequent Transit, March 11, 2022
1 – Here’s the Real Lowdown on the Do’s and Don’ts for E-Bikes and E-Scooters in Key West, January 28, 2022

End of Year Top 10 Stories from Previous Years

Streets for People / Countdown of 2021’s Most Important Bike, Walk and Transit Stories – Is Our Glass Half Full or Half Empty? Part 2: The Case for a Glass Half Full Year  December 17, 2021

Streets for People / Countdown of 2021’s Most Important Bike, Walk and Transit Stories – Is Our Glass Half Full or Half Empty? Part 1: The Case for a Glass Half Empty Year  December 10, 2021

Streets for People / Counting Down the Top 10 Most Popular Stories of 2021 November 26, 2021

Streets for People / Countdown of the 10 Most Important Bike, Walk and Transit Stories of 2019 and 2020 Revisited December 3, 2021

Welcome to the Key West Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People Top 10 Stories for 2020 December 19, 2020

Recap of Friends of Car-Free Key West Top Stories of 2019 December 18, 2020

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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.