We’ve recently been making the case and seen lots of public support for putting in parklets to widen the sidewalks, for restaurants and retailers to “take the streets” or even for some semblance of the return of Mall-on-Duval-like activities. It seems a missing element is someone to organize and help the businesses along Duval Street and adjacent blocks to accomplish activities like this.
The City has embarked on a needed “Duval Street Revitalization Study” that will enlist an engineering and planning consultant to help plan the revitalization of the infrastructure or streetscape of Duval. The goal of the Project is to “renovate and revitalize Duval Street to increase opportunities for public use as an iconic civic space for leisure, commerce, and tourism; address the infrastructure which will allow for reasonable maintenance frequency and reduce costs to businesses and taxpayers; improve safety for pedestrians and vehicles; and maintain mobility for desired transit operations for all users.” The Mayor said she envisions improvements including widening sidewalks and adding planters, benches and water fountains. But once we renovate Duval Street, is that enough? Or do we need someone to help the businesses and community take advantage of and operate this improved asset?
(Photo credit for the dining photo: Michael Beattie of the Conch Scooter blog.) The businesses themselves are too busy just trying to run their own operations. These days that’s harder than ever to do. Mom and Pop shops shouldn’t also be expected to figure out how to make all this happen, coordinate with each other and actually do it. While the City should certainly set the table and provide services and capital improvements for one of its most important assets, Duval Street, and they do, should they be expected to do all the work or even more work, especially the activities part? Or should there be some sort of empowered third party organization that can take responsibility for helping small businesses thrive while liaising with and enhancing what the local government does do? There’s actually about 1,000 of these kind of organizations across the U.S.A. They’re called business improvement districts or BIDS. Would it be helpful to have one in downtown Key West? Let’s explore…
“Downtown success is becoming widespread. At its heart is a quiet revolution concerning who takes responsibility for the “operations” of downtown commercial areas. Rather than blaming City Hall, hotel operators, theater owners, storekeepers, restaurateurs, service providers, office employers, developers, property owners, and property managers are planning and managing urban services in their neighborhoods.“Larry Houstoun of Larry Houstoun’s Urban Public Spaces & Business Improvement Districts blog
What’s a BID?
According to Wikipedia, BIDS are special commercial districts within a city overseen by a non-profit entity, typically funded by some sort of taxing authority with the money going towards improvements and services within the area. BIDs often rely on other sources of revenue, in addition to the tax assessment, to fund their operations. Services financed by a BID are intended to enhance existing city services, not replace them and/or provide services the city doesn’t do. The International Downtown Association (IDA) says: “A Business Improvement District (BID) is a public/private partnership in which property and business owners elect to make a collective contribution to the maintenance, development and promotion of a commercial district.” Since the 1970’s nearly 1,000 BIDS in big cities (New York City has 76) and small towns across North America have popped up. Wikipedia says “Often, BIDs are formed as a result of property owners in a defined district who seek funding for a variety of services, including governmental services such as cleaning and maintenance, non-governmental services such as marketing and promotion or beautification, and the implementation of capital investments.” As a DOT employee of Arlington County government, I worked closely with six Arlington, Virginia business improvement districts over the years – each one being indispensable to helping its neighborhood thrive.
I got to work with the DC Downtown BID on birthing and branding a brand new downtown circulator bus and with the Crystal City BID on starting bikeshare in Arlington. Both huge undertakings that needed a push, planning and even funding to get the two local governments moving. I witnessed local BIDS do small things like provide ambassadors on the street to welcome people and provide them with directions. They helped small shops with permits and applications. The local BIDS did extra sweepings of the streets and emptying of the trash cans. They sponsored branded benches, bus stops and recycle bins. They provided maps and wayfinding signage. ALL of the BIDS I worked with promoted walking, biking and transit because they knew that was better economically for their small business owners. They fostered farmer’s markets, block parties, movie nights, lectures, gallery walks and first Friday events to promote businesses. And when when of the home teams went to the playoffs or when it was a holiday or special occasion they made sure the street light poles were festooned with flags sharing the moment as a neighborhood. They helped foster a stronger sense of place and belonging.
Typical BID Services
Every business improvement district is different and what they do and offer may change over time. But my experience and the literature on the subject suggests the following are typical business improvement district type services:
- Supplement maintenance, sanitation and cleaning
- Supplement security
- Supplement or provide landscaping
- Provide welcoming services including “Ambassadors” on the street
- Conduct research and analyze economic, demographic and psychographic data
- Provide alternative transportation and parking information and promotion so visitors don’t clog downtown looking for parking
- Provide unified marketing services and promote businesses
- Help brand or rebrand a district to impart a new, more positive or unified identity
- Connect property owners with the right tenants
- Promote and expand district business activity, thereby creating more jobs and furthering economic vitality or revitalization. A BID, in effect, acts as a localized chamber of commerce
- Initiate event planning and production – think what Nadene Grossman Orr’s wonderful Key West Event’s does for Fantasy Fest and this is what BIDS do for their members
- Advocate and promote civic art installations in public spaces or on publicly visible private properties in the district
- Advocate and lobby on behalf of businesses to City Hall
- Provide unified wayfinding signage
- Report potholes, broken streetlights, malfunctioning traffic signals, illegal dumping and other urban shortcomings
- Foster or generate starts for eventual City programs like circulator buses, carsharing and bikeshare programs
- Initiate small capital improvements by funding or installing
- trees and landscaping
- bike racks
- street furniture
- public amenities such as bathrooms
The Key West Historic Seaport Kinda Acts Like A BID
Key West already has one BID-like organization. Kinda. The Key West Historic Seaport. While they are a city-agency they have their own income and budget, overseen by their own board of directors. While they are City employees, they have staff that do similar work to other departments but just for the Seaport. As they have their own budget they have their own contractors and even have an almost $350,000 budget to market member businesses and put on events. Check out their web site. So while their marketing firm is asking people to shop and dine at the Seaport, who’s doing that for businesses on our Main street?
Do We Need a BID?
In our humble opinion, yes. Especially since the City sorta runs one already at the Historic Seaport. There isn’t a downtown commercial district in the North America worth its salt that doesn’t have one. Every BID I had the pleasure to work with made its neighborhood a better place and the businesses appreciated that. We’ve noticed many local business owners say they have problems getting permits for sidewalk seating and others don’t know where they’d even begin at the City if they wanted to put in a parklet in front of their business. Others have shared stories of receiving little support when they tried to participate in Mall on Duval. That and there seems to be a different City department for everything. Wouldn’t it be easier to have an advocate? Someone who could help organize things? Our downtown business district is our city’s life blood. If we’re going to invest in its infrastructure, shouldn’t we likewise invest in its smooth operations?
What About the Chamber and Other Organizations?
We have a lot of organizations in Key West that may seem kind of related. The Key West Chamber of Commerce, the Key West Business Guild, the Lodging Association of the Florida Keys and Key West, the Key West Attractions Association, and of course there’s the Monroe County Tourist Development Council or TDC. They all do a fantastic job at what they do. I attend many of their functions. There’s indeed a little overlap, but do any of them specifically look out for and provide the kind of typical BID services we share above to Duval Street businesses? No. That’s not to say one of these organizations couldn’t do if tasked with running a BID. But none of them are providing those typical services to Duval Street at the moment. The creation of any Downtown BID would need to cede to these other organizations what they do best and concentrate on filling in the gaps.
Architecture professor and Washington Post columnist Roger K. Lewis in an article about How a BID Helps explains “BIDs are financed primarily through a dedicated, add-on BID tax, assessed over and above normal real estate taxes. Only businesses within the improvement district pay the extra tax. Typically the jurisdiction collects the additional BID tax, which is then available to the BID for its budgeted operating costs. However, BIDs are not official government agencies but, rather, function as independent, nonprofit organizations.” The Center for Innovative Finance Support adds “BIDs often rely on other sources of revenue, in addition to the tax assessment, to fund their operations.” I’ve also seen BIDS where the local government, in addition to the services it already provides in the BID Area, gives annual cash matches and allows the BIDS to access the City’s capital budget. There are likely as many ways to finance a BID as there are BIDS.
Typical BIDS can operate on budgets that are a couple to a few million dollars annually. In New York City the 75 bids average an annual budget of $2 million with a couple of them topping $5 million and a few that have budgets much less. The brand new Flagler District BID in Miami is targeting a $1 million first year budget. In Arlington, VA the Crystal City BID, mentioned above, has a $2.8 million annual budget and a tax rate of $0.043. The Ballston BID has a $1.6 annual budget and a $0.053 tax rate. The Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization has a budget of about $550,000. So you can see there’s quite a range. If there is to be a BID in downtown Key West, its budget would be predicated upon what services were wanted and what money could be made available. It would seem that budgets on the smaller end, may not need much if any tax rate.
Perhaps in Key West there are opportunities for some innovative funding to keep any additional tax or fee burdens low on downtown commercial property owners. The County’s Tourist Development Council (TDC) takes in an awful lot of money annually. Perhaps some of that money could be put to use actually enhancing our downtown’s Main street’s operations rather than some of the money it spends on advertising Key West in general. Making the product they are advertising a stronger place might be a better way of attracting tourists, rather than clever marketing slogans. Just a thought.
Typically BIDS begin when a group of local business people or a local business organization petitions a City to legally create one. Given that we quickly found 16 Florida BIDS, and there’s likely more, it would seem easy enough to start by asking one of them for assistance. This article is meant as a starting place for discussion. There really needs to be a groundswell from the business people on Duval and adjacent blocks to rally for something like this. It could also come from a champion at City Hall. Or ideally both.
Could the Duval Street Revitalization Study Look Into Creating a BID?
Perhaps the best avenue to approach this subject is via the Duval Street Revitalization Study process. The City has received proposals from two firms and a selection committee is expected to make a recommendation soon. Then the process will begin, perhaps this fall. While the Study is focusing on infrastructure, it seems appropriate that the selected consultant, in consultation with the business community and public, could come up with recommendations and action items relating to a Duval Street or Downtown BID overseeing this enhanced asset too.
Now’s the time to learn more, think it through and hopefully have a good discussion about creating a BID during the Duval Street Revitalization Process. Let’s help make that discussion happen.
Chris Hamilton, June 4, 2020
Feature Image (top of page) photo credit Keys Weekly.
Florida Business Improvement Districts
Here are some nearby Florida BIDS: South Miami BID, Winwood BID, (Miami), The Beach BID (Fort Lauderdale), Flagler District BID (Miami), City of Palm Bay BID, Coconut Grove BID (Miami), Lincoln Road BID, Fifth Avenue South BID (Naples), St. Armonds Special Business Neighborhood Improvement District (Sarasota), International Drive BID/TMA (Orlando), Downtown South BID (Orlando), Downtown Orlando Central District BID, Downtown Jacksonville, Downtown Coral Gables BID, Tampa Downtown Partnership, Westshore District Tampa Bay.
Sources for This Article and Additional Information
- Business Improvement Districts in the United States – Wikipedia
- City of Key West Annual Budget 2019-2020, Key West Bight Fund 405
- Key West Historic Seaport – website
- International Downtown Association (IDA) – website
- Partnerships and BIDS, Arlington Economic Development website
- Crystal City BID, Arlington, VA
- DC Downtown BID, Washington, D.C.
- A to Z of Business Improvement Districts, Project for Public Spaces
- How a Business Improvement District Helps, Roger K. Lewis, Washington Post
- Betting On Bids, Larry Houston’s Urban Public Places and Business Improvement Districts blog
- Business Improvement Districts – Self-Help Downtown, Compilation of Articles, International Economic Development Council
- Business Improvement District Fact Sheet, Center for Innovative Finance Report, U.S. DOT FHWA
- BIDS Bring Financial and Community Benefits to Miami-Dade’s Neighborhoods, by Many Gonzalez, Miami Herald
- City Plans Duval Revitalization – Long Term Plan Rolls Out, Sarah Thomas, September 2019, Keys Weekly
Back in April we shared an article Reimagining Key West – 3 Quick Wins for Revitalizing Duval Street that suggested to get a start on pedestrianizing Duval Street, now during the Coronavirus slowdown, we could install parklets, put in more bike parking and “Slow the Cars Down and Let People Take the Street.” We’ve expanded on the parklets idea (20 Parklets on Duval in 2020), talked a bit more about bicycling (Key West, Let’s Radically Speed Up the Implementation of Our Bike/Ped Plan) and even suggested City of Key West – Let Our Restaurants Take the Streets! Now we’d like to further explore the idea of letting people take the street by slowing the cars.
Photo credit for the above big picture Michael Beattie of the Conch Scooter blog.
The idea of closing Duval Street off to vehicles after a certain time of day has been talked about for decades. To be clear, this would be our preference. People love the idea for obvious reasons, but we often get stuck on the details. Conversations usually devolve into “close the block entirely to cars” or “you can’t do that because…” and so nothing gets done, as there’s seemingly no in-between or compromise way to do this.
When asked what they like most about a city they have visited, almost no one answers: “The cars whizzing by on the streets.” Cultural attractions, the people we meet, walking through the city and gazing at plazas, buildings, and places—these are the things that make a city unique.Brooks Rainwater, National League of Cities
We give credit to Mayor Johnston and Commissioners Weekley and Kaufman for trying with the Mall on Duval, but even that little 3-block experiment, eventually got smothered by whining and opposition and withered away in a 4-3 Commission vote against extending it any longer.
What about the delivery vehicles? What about seniors, people with mobility or ADA issues that need to be dropped off at the front door? What about taxis, Ubers and Lyfts? What about the hotels and inns with access off of Duval? Good questions, but certainly something we can overcome, if not accommodate, right?
In our previous article we suggested that if we don’t ban cars outright, perhaps we institute a 5 MPH speed limit and simply allow people to walk in the street. We gave the example that Commercial Street in Provincetown, Massachusetts does something similar in their season, during the summer. They have small sidewalks and a narrow street and so they allow people to walk in the street. Notice that in most of these pictures there are indeed cars on the street. But in this case, the sheer number of people forces a vehicle to slow down. There’s people riding bikes too. But if you look at the pictures closely you’ll notice that sometimes the amount of pedestrians makes bike riding uncomfortable and so people are walking their bike. Even though Commercial Street is their main retail and activity street, unless people in cars really need to use it, they try to avoid it, especially in the afternoons, evenings and weekends during the season. It works. No extra police. No infrastructure. People know the nature of the street and everyone adjusts.
Now some people will say Key West is different and unique. We know. Duval Street is wider. Yes. Commercial Street is a one-way street. Yep and Duval is two-way. Provincetown’s a special case. Okay, that’s a given. And this is where our conversations usually get derailed because well, Key West isn’t anyplace else and the powers that be are loathe to try anything from someplace else. We know. We know. We are unique and do things our own way. But there is growing evidence from around the world that people adjust to these types of situations and that it can be done. So why can’t we figure this out in our own Key West way?
“Shared Streets” or “Woonerfs”
This isn’t a new concept. A Woonerf is a Dutch term for a street shared by cars, bicycles and people as equals. Woonerfs are alternately called “Shared Streets.” Although cars are allowed in most — but not all — of the zones or blocks of a Woonerf, they are generally restricted to “walking speed” with the onus of responsibility for safety entirely on the driver. Bikes cede the right of way to pedestrians. Instead of dividing a street with barriers like curbs, sidewalks and bike lanes, everyone uses the street simultaneously and cars are forced to drive slowly. There are things called Slow Streets, but usually those are associated with residential neighborhoods. And these aren’t Complete Streets, which accommodate all users but do so with separate infrastructure or lanes for pedestrians, bikes and vehicles.
In speaking of a woonerf, “They’re designed to allow cars but they aren’t designed for cars. Cars have to behave themselves in a different way.”Stan Eckstut, the lead architect in a huge Washington, D.C. project called the Warf in an article about it’s growing use in North America
The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) just came out with a free guidebook Streets for Pandemic Response and Recovery that compiles emerging practices from around the world and includes implementation resources for cities and their partners. This offers us a how-to-guide for quick implementation of these ideas over the course of the summer and fall, so that by the season, we’re more prepared to provide visitors and residents with a safe experience.
So perhaps in Key West on Duval and some adjacent streets we:
- set the speed limit at 5 MPH,
- get rid of on-street parking so people aren’t coming down the street looking for it (up to one third of traffic are people looking for a parking space),
- ban cars outright on a few blocks at certain times of day, thus alleviating people trying to traverse the entirety of Duval for a sight seeing adventure and giving a few blocks that want it, more of the “Mall on Duval” experience,
- not allow cars on one side of the street on some blocks to allow retailers, restauranteurs, and artists to use the space and have vehicles go around these,
- discourage through traffic. If you come down the block it is because you are making a delivery, dropping off or picking up passengers or you are going to a specific destination that has off-street parking or needs access on that block (like a hotel),
- encourage private and public parklets in former parking spaces,
- install temporary barriers, barricades and signs that make it clear you are entering a Pedestrian Zone and to block or protect temporary seating and displays,
- educate visitors, residents and workers that this area works this way.
Business can work with City staff to come up with a quick plan. It is important that at this point there be no City fees attached to this. It would help if Duval Street had a business improvement district to oversee this, but that’s the subject of a future story.
Is this a perfect solution? No. Is it a compromise? Yes. But in the face of the seemingly all or nothing conversations we’ve been having for decades on closing Duval Street to cars, perhaps this can be a start for discussion. We wouldn’t need to do much planning nor infrastructure improvements to implement this. Doing these things wouldn’t have to be permanent, so if we want to reconfigure the street in the future, we can change things. Duval Street is something that should bring us all together. The idea is to do it quickly, over the summer and fall, get a win and feel good about doing something that will be more healthy and prosperous in response to this Coronavirus mess. Repaving Duval Street was a nice start. Now let’s make it for everyone, not just cars.
Sources for this Article and Additional Resources
- 6 Places Where Cars, Bikes, and Pedestrians All Share the Road as Equals; by Eric Jaffe, City Lab
- What’s a Woonerf? The Streetscape Design That’s Sweeping DC; by Jon Banister, Biz Now
- Why Car-Free Streets Will Soon Be the Norm; Brooks Rainwater, City Lab
- Bikes, Cars, and People Coexist on Pittsburgh’s Shared Streets; by Tanya Snyder, Streetsblog USA
- Woonerf – definition from Wikipedia
- Car-Free Movement – from Wikipedia
- Living Streets – Strategies for Crafting Public Space; book by By Lesley Bain, Barbara Gray, Dave Rodgers
- Strategic Design Can Help Car-Free Streets Gain Popularity Post-Coronavirus; by Jason Plautz, Smart Cities Dive
- Small Streets, The Urban Prospector
- National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) website
Active Streets for Business, City of Milwaukee – A pilot program to support local businesses by promoting the safe reopening of restaurants and bars through expanded options for increased physical distancing and dining in outdoor areas. View the presentation from June 3, 2020.
Is the Staples Avenue Bike Bridge safe?
June 12 UPDATE: We received a nice call today from Steven McAlearney the City’s Director of the Department of Engineering about this story. He assured us that they wouldn’t let people ride on the bridge if it was unsafe. He rides the bridge often himself. He said the bridge should be good structurally for some years into the future, especially given the weight of a few people at a time isn’t much. But based upon the photos he’s having a professional go under the bridge and give it a closer look. That should happen within the week. As a result they may need a little touch up to extend the life. He promised to let us know the results.
He also said that the Community Services Department had the bridge slated for replacement in their capital budget plan. It was slated to be replaced in the coming 2020-21 budget year but will be pushed back to further out due to looming budget cuts as a result of Coronavirus slowdown.
May 27, 2020. NOTE: As a result of the story and follow-up the City Engineer is going to have this checked out. We’ll let you know what the City finds.
A local kayaker asks this question while sending us these pictures of rotting metal on the bridge. We need to take care of this vital asset because:
- hundreds and hundreds of people use it every day
- geography makes it is the only link between downtown and New Town/ Stock Island that keeps bicycles off of less safe, car-centric N. Roosevelt Boulevard and Flagler Avenue
- it is part of the Crosstown Greenway that safely connects bicyclists with downtown and points north
We’ll ask our friends at City Hall to look into this and get back to you.
We need to do all we can to make sure:
- the bridge is safe
- the Crosstown Greenway project is finished
- difficult intersections such as George Street at Von Phister Avenue and Staples at First and Fifth Streets are addressed
- the proposed trail through Wickers Sports Complex and across Kennedy Street is started
- the proposed Bike Boulevard project for the Crosstown Greenway at White Street is started, and
- all the elements of the Crosstown Greenway (formerly “Connector”) are started and completed.
Why this information is so hard to come by, we don’t know. But Key West Transit has ditched the old, meandering, hard to understand Red, Orange, Blue and Green Routes (Yay!) and replaced them with two simplified North and South routes that intersect with the “
Free and Frequent” Duval Loop. While the routes are simpler to understand, with only 10 trips in and 10 trips out per day, the frequency is still rather dismal at about one and a half hours between trips. Less on weekends.
We hope the frequency issue is temporary, but there isn’t any information on the Key West Transit or City website indicating what’s happening and what’s next. We’ll try to find out and keep you informed.
Please read our story Reimagining Key West Transit and find out the bright future for getting around the island by bus and why we think we need to speed up that plan this summer/fall. Below you’ll find the new routes and schedules.
More People Are Bicycling at the Moment
If you’ve been on a bike during the last two months you know how easy and safe it is to get around our beautiful little island without all those cars clogging things up. Bike shops report upticks in new bike purchases and people coming in for repairs. To get some exercise whole families are doing loops around the island, especially along the South Roosevelt Bike/Ped Promenade. Stories abound in our little town and cities across the country about people rediscovering the joys of bicycling for exercise AND for just getting around. One June 1 as everything starts to open up again, will we simply go back to our old car-centric ways? Will people be afraid to keep using their bikes as the cars come back?
It’s About the 50% Who Are “Interested But Concerned”
There’s an axiom in bike planning circles that categorizes people into four generalized typologies in regards to bicycling as follows:
1) “Strong and Fearless:” People willing to bicycle with limited or no bicycle-specific infrastructure
2) “Enthused and Confident:” People willing to bicycle if some bicycle-specific infrastructure is in place
3) “Interested but Concerned:” People willing to bicycle if high-quality bicycle infrastructure is in place
4) “No Way, No How:” People unwilling to bicycle even if high-quality bicycle infrastructure is in place
The numbers vary by city but generally there’s consensus that about half the population would be willing to bike if they perceived it were safer and easier to do so. These are the people that have likely been coming out and biking lately. So how do we address their concerns and get more people to use a bike and bike more often once all the cars return?
Picture a Better Future
Picture it. Clearly marked separated and protected bike lanes, greenways or bike boulevards, and off-street paths connect throughout the city, forming a seamless, uninterrupted network of bicycle facilities allowing safe travel through and around the island for everyone of all ages and abilities. Signs show bikers and walkers where they are and how to get to their destination. Bike boxes at busy intersections create space for bicycles ahead of the cars. Ample bike parking is found within a block of all work, shop and play destinations. Wider sidewalks in busy downtown areas, intersections with bump outs and mid-block crosswalks, traffic calming to slow the cars, and places for people to sit, watch, chat and eat in more places. This is the vision the Key West Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Transportation Plan paints for our future.
Key West is Bike-Friendly Because It’s Warm, Flat and Small
As one of Key West’s preeminent bike advocates consistently says, the island is warm, flat and small, so our focus should be on getting more people to bike, because that’s cheaper than accommodating cars and ramping up transit. We agree. Key West is already a bike-friendly city for some of us. According to the U.S. Census Bureaus’ American Community Survey, an average of 15 percent of Key West residents bike to work, making the City the 3rd in the nation for bike commuting in 2013. An additional 7.5 percent of the population walks to work. But the comparatively good statistics are mostly because we’re compact, flat and have good weather, not particularly because of any amazing bicycle facilities on the ground. Imagine how many more people would bike – residents, workers and visitors – If we had some world class facilities here? What would it look like if we could get more of those 50% in the middle, who don’t find it easy and safe to bike around, to do so.
We Have a World Class Bike/Ped Plan Already Done
We could start by implementing more of the measures in the City’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Transportation Plan and spending some real money on this stuff. We spend a tens of millions of dollars on cars and transit and virtually nothing on biking in the City and County budgets. Which is kinda nuts when you think of all the upside that bicycle facilities bring. And they can be quicker, easier and less expensive than building for cars and transit.
The Plan adopted by City Commission in March of 2019 is an amazingly straightforward blueprint to make Key West the bicycling paradise it should be. The Plan’s consultant, is one of the foremost planning firms of its kind in North America, Toole Design Group, There’s a field assessment of what’s out there on the streets about what works and what doesn’t work. There are reams of data on what people think and want and what would motivate them to bike more.
To the plan’s credit it includes a Multimodal Connectivity chapter that looks at larger policies and community goals and puts the bike and walk actions in context of traffic, parking, transit and other modes. It addresses the need for safety education and marketing. It presents a vision of the future and breaks down bicycle and pedestrian network recommendations into short, medium- and long-term actions. It includes a section on Complete Streets, best practices, evaluation, funding and maintenance. In short, all City staff have to do is pick up the document and go through it step by step.
The Plan’s Had Tons of Public Input, Been Vetted and Is Commission Approved
The City’s consultant undertook painstaking field assessments and data collection to undergird its recommendations. You’ll find maps of crash data and maps of barriers to biking and walking. They then vetted the data and ideas with multiple online, email and in-person surveys, public meetings, outreach at community events, public bike rides, boards set up around the island at shopping centers, intercepts along the trails and streets and further meetings with city officials, commissioners and stakeholders – including a citizen Project Advisory Team and the City Commission’s Parking and Alternative Transportation Group. They even had an interactive online map so citizens could pinpoint trouble spots and sketch out solutions. And then for good measure more public meetings. This plan has been thoroughly vetted and is ready to go.
With Tactical Urbanism, We’ve Shown Progress
The City has already shown progress by dipping directly into the Plan and bringing forward the Crosstown Greenway Project (Staples/Von Phister bikeway) that got underway this past fall and winter. Kudos go to the City’s Transportation Coordinator for securing grant monies from and working with the legendary Miami firm Street Plans (they wrote the book Tactical Urbanism) on the project to test out selected design strategies using low-cost, temporary materials for new crosswalks, traffic circles, pavement art, and wayfinding to elevate bicycle and pedestrian priority along the corridor and slow the cars and prevent cut through traffic. This project, which should be on the ground in the coming months, helps demonstrate that there are tactics for getting things done sooner than later.
We Can and Need To Move Even Faster
So why aren’t we speeding up more elements of the Plan from bicycle parking to bike boxes to signs? Why aren’t we using the break in traffic the Coronavirus brought to sweep in and get going today on the low hanging fruit? Why can’t we use more temporary or “tactical urbanism” measures to make it even safer and easier this summer and fall before things get back to full swing?
If implemented, could we in one year double the number of work trips within the City made by bike to 30%? The Census is only measuring Key West residents (half of Key West workers live outside the City in Monroe County and those living beyond Stock Island likely drive – another story) so no one lives more than four miles from work. 30% on a small, flat and warm island seems achievable and worthy in going after.
This shouldn’t just be the City’s Transportation Coordinator’s job. It is too big and too important. Department heads and teams of people should be responsible for implementing. Especially since the City doesn’t have a formal transportation department but rather siloed transit, engineering, parking, planning and community services/public works groups. The Mayor, Commission and City Manager should make it everyone’s job to build out the Plan and make the City more bike-friendly and we need to hold them accountable for doing so.
An island that is safer and easier for more people to bike and walk would be healthier, more equitable, cleaner for our environment, combat climate change, increase prosperity for local business, and would make us happier too. Lots of people already bike and walk by default in Key West because our island is flat, small and warm. But if we are going to get more people to bik,e that is going to be because we make it safe and easy by intention and design. There are many low-cost action items included in the plan and those items should be prioritized to be completed now. And where there is a cost associated with substantial infrastructure changes, we must think of these costs as an investment in our future. All we need is the will to take this excellent document and get going. Now!
Let’s go Key West!
In instituting a new fare for visitors using the “Free and Frequent” Duval Loop bus service, the Mayor said “We’re in some very strange and unusual times right now. We’re going to have to make some unprecedented decisions.” Taking her and her fellow Commissioners at their word, we ask them then, to turn their attention to managing our parking supply fairly. There are approximately 3,000 on-street parking spaces in Old Town below White Street. About 1/3 of these spaces are metered, 1/3 are marked Residential and 1/3 are unmarked. Residential Permits can be had for $20 annually or $0.05 cents per day. The unmarked spaces are FREE. That means two thirds of downtown’s public, on-street parking spaces are virtually FREE. And the metered-spaces are priced too low.
In addition, City and County employees are provided free parking downtown and people with those $0.05 cents a day Residential Permit Parking passes can park FREE for four-hours in many close-in City and County lots and the beaches. What’s the result of all this under-priced parking?
Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.Yogi Berra
Traffic and parking congestion is the result. It ruins everything. In a citizen survey, 58% of residents named erosion of quality of life as the top concern regarding changes in Key West, and traffic congestion ranked number one among residents’ quality of life concerns (Harris and Harris 2004). In a City-sponsored survey in 2015, traffic was ranked the number three “biggest issue” on the island, behind affordable housing and cost of living. We often hear residents lament something along the lines of the the old Yogi Berra saying in referring to downtown Key West. “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” They don’t want to go out to eat or a movie or shopping because they perceive it’s too crowded. The streets are too congested. It’s too hard to find parking. There are too many cars. Many people don’t consider alternatives because they perceive all that traffic and parking congestion makes it less safe and easy to bike downtown. And our City bus system is in need of a radical overhaul if we expect people to actually use it. So why do we have so much free and nearly free parking? Why are we making it so easy to drive when it just makes downtown too crowded to want to go to?
If we want to make a dent in traffic and parking congestion we need to apply the right parking strategies. We must manage our community’s parking to its maximum. We can’t give it away or subsidize it (under-price it), as this exaserbates congestion AND works against people using alternatives to driving.
Some Reasons for Right-Pricing Parking
When you have a scarce resource like parking spaces and you have a lot of demand for that resource, the best way to manage that is to price it properly. It’s a simple economic principal.Matthew Roth, Streetblog.org
Discourage Cruising for Free On-Street Parking
When a city undervalues parking by providing free, nearly free, and under-priced metered parking, many people think like George Costanza, and always believe if they just try hard enough, they’ll find a spot. When you undervalue street parking it encourages driving and causes congestion. Research indicates that in some congested downtowns up to 1/3 of cars are cruising for under-priced curb parking. This cruising causes congestion and pollution.
“A surprising amount of traffic isn’t caused by people who are on their way somewhere. Rather it is caused by people who have already arrived. Our streets are congested, in part, by people who have gotten where they want to be but are cruising around looking for a place to park.” says Parking Guru and UCLA Professor Donald Shoup in this article: Cruising for Parking.
Encourage Turnover for Retail
Metered parking should be tailored to encourage turnover in retail areas to help merchants. People who want to park for longer periods should be directed to long-term parking lots. Consider that metered parking reflect location and time of day/week/season. For example, metered parking one block from retail shouldn’t be the same price as metered parking three blocks away. Likewise, parking rates Christmas through Easter should be higher than in the off-season. Right-pricing metered parking is a science according to Donald Shoup. So what’s the right price for curbside parking? According to the professor and author of The High Cost of Free Parking, “the right price is the lowest price you can charge and still have one or two spaces available on each block.” He says the sweet spot for pricing meters is where 85% of parking spaces in a given area, at a given time, are occupied or one or two open spaces per block. If the spaces are always full or empty than you’ve missed the mark.
In our case, people visiting downtown look for either an unmarked free space or if they have a Residential Parking Permit, they can look for those too. The problem is, close-in residential streets are where everyone wants to find this free parking. This makes it very difficult for those who live in the core to park in their own neighborhood, let alone their own block or in front of their home. Likewise when we under-price metered parking, it encourages people who should be using long-term lots or even could be using the bus or biking, to drive and park for work. This doesn’t help retail, restaurants and attractions.
Encourage Visitors to Park in Long-Term Lots and Keep Em There
According to a 2019 Study published in the Journal of Transportation Demand Management at the University of South Florida entitled “Toward Car-Free Key West” by Mary Bishop, 82% of visitors to Key West arrive by vehicle, either their own or a rental. The same study referenced the Key West Chamber saying there were 2.7 million visitors to Key West in 2015. In answering the question “How did you get to the Keys for this trip?” in a 2018 TDC Visitor Profile Survey overnight visitors said: 35% by personal vehicle, 28% rental vehicle, 10% fly into Miami and rent a car for a total of 73% by car. Twenty-three percent (23%) flew directly into Key West Airport, 1.5% into Marathon Airport and 1.5% came by tour bus. A Visitor Volume and Spending study from the same year said there were 2.6 million visitors to the Keys and 2.16 million of those were overnight visitors.
However you slice and dice the data, THAT’S a lot of cars on our little island. Overnight and day visitors, like George Costanza, prefer to find free parking. Many of our downtown hotels, inns and B&Bs don’t provide adequate parking. So faced with a choice of hunting for those elusive 1,000 unmarked free spots downtown or paying upwards of $20 a day or night for parking, it isn’t surprising that many overnight and day visitors choose to try and park in the neighborhood. The only solution to direct them toward long-terms lots is to take that choice away (#4 below).
Fairness and Equity
Former New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn said: “Streets are some of the most valuable resources that a city has, and yet it’s an asset that’s largely hidden in plain sight.” Streets and sidewalks take up 25 to 50 percent of a typical U.S. city’s land. New York City, for example, is on the lower end of that scale at 28 percent and Chicago (42 percent), Washington D.C. (43) and Portland, Oregon (47) are at the higher end. I wish I could figure out Key West’s percentage but it is likely in this range. Is it fair that so much of our community’s valuable asset is provided so cheaply for the sole purpose of providing car storage for people who can afford to own and maintain cars? Simply put, the answer is no.
Providing parking isn’t free. And no, the gas tax you pay doesn’t cover the cost of maintaining our roads. General taxes on everyone pay as much or more. The cost of land, pavement, street cleaning, and other services related to free parking spots come directly out of tax dollars (usually municipal or state funding sources). Each on-street parking space is estimated to cost around $1,750 to build and $400 to maintain annually. In a place like Key West, the cost is likely higher because this doesn’t include the cost of the real estate underneath the asphalt. “That parking doesn’t just come out of thin air,” Shoup says. “So this means people who don’t own cars pay for other peoples’ parking. Every time you walk somewhere, or ride a bike, or take a bus, you’re getting shafted.”
It’s a Wasteful Use of Valuable Land
According to Zillow the average value of real estate in Key West is $692 per square foot. We realize that real estate downtown around Duval Street is worth even more, but we’ll be conservative here. Say that typically on Duval, half of that value is for the land or $346 per square foot. A typical parking space is 160 square feet (20″ x 8″). Do the math. That parking space is worth $55,360. Would you give this away free or underprice it? How would you price the value of something we say we want less of?
Additional Revenue for Transportation Alternatives
While not the main goal of right-pricing parking, it will bring in additional revenue. A good portion of that additional revenue should go into the City’s Transportation Alternatives Fund that provides things like the Duval Loop, the Transportation Coordinator’s salary, bicycle racks, bus stop signage, protected bicycle lanes, wayfinding signage and more.
What We Should Do
The following proposals are meant as a starting point for discussion. Thoughtful people can fine tune the details and numbers, and this is especially true during an economic downtown. But we stand by the thrust of the basic points. We should point out that we aren’t proposing these measures to simply raise revenue. We should do these things because they will improve our quality of life, business prosperity, and environment. The fact that taken as a whole they may raise some additional revenue is a bonus. We should also stress that you need to do all these things together in a coordinated fashion. They work together. They support each other. They build upon each other.
1. Raise the Price on Metered Parking
In most places downtown, $4 an hour is too cheap to price this valuable real estate asset. Especially when the minimum to park in most garages or lots is more. Raise the rates to $5 or more immediately. Vary the prices so that it is more expensive during peak periods of the day and peak times of the year. For the very most convenient spaces, consider using a progressive price structure to favor short-term users. For example, charge $5.00 for the first hour, $6.00 for the second hour, and $7.00 for the next and so on.
Meters Must Be Priced Higher Than Garages/Lots. If the City is considering raising garage and parking lot rates at its facilities, we must remember the on-street metered rates always need to be more than surrounding garages and lots, and that needs to be common knowledge. Otherwise people will want to try and park on the street first and that leads to the Constanza cruising congestion problem.
2. Raise the Price on Residential Parking Permits
$20 for an annual permit comes out to $0.05 cents a day. $0.05 CENTS A DAY! To ease into this how about next year charging $120 for the first vehicle. At $10 a month, this is still a bargain. Charge $250 for a household’s second vehicle and progressively on up. Then raise these rates automatically with inflation.
3. Institute Residential Permit Parking By Zone
Residential Permit Parking is intended for residents to be able to park within a few blocks of their home. Zones should be small and only available to people who reside or have a business within that zone. This is common practice throughout North America.. Wikipedia says “residential zoned parking is a local government practice of designating certain on-street automobile parking spaces for the exclusive use of nearby residents. It is a tool for addressing overspill parking from neighboring population centers such as a business or tourist district. “
In Key West there’s only one Zone. It covers the entire City, including Stock Island. Anyone can purchase this pass for $20 or $0.05 cents a day. The permit allows folks on Stock Island to drive into downtown and use one of those 1,000 on-street Residential Permit Parking spaces for virtually FREE. As long as they like. For people living north of White Street, the only reason to get a pass is to be able to park for 5 cents a day downtown. The people who live in the core are the ones that need a permit to ensure parking near their home. But with 10,000 to 12,000 annual permits out there and only 1,000 Residential Permit Parking spaces, those spaces are hard to come by, especially in season. It isn’t fair to the people who live downtown. Lets just call these passes what they are, Residents Please Drive and Park Anywhere You Like for Free Passes and not pretend to call them what they aren’t. Most people aren’t using them to park NEAR THEIR HOME but they might be using them to park near your home. We often hear the tired argument that “I pay city taxes, so I should be able to park for free anywhere in the City I want.” But if these people lived on Fleming or Thomas Streets, would they really say the same thing? Doubtful.
*If you live outside of downtown, we may have a transitional solution that will ease people into this, so stick with us and read #4 below before you dismiss this.
4. Put Limits on the Unmarked Spaces Downtown
There are about 1,000 unmarked, free spaces downtown. One can park in these spaces for three days or 72 hours before having to move a vehicle. These are the parking spots that the George Costantza’s among us, whether they be overnight or day visitors, look for. Limit the parking in these spaces to a certain number of hours, say 4 hours between the hours of 9 am and 11 pm. Turn more of these spaces over to Residential Parking Permit and more to metered parking spaces.
* Transitional Idea. Say the City went ahead and instituted a Residential Parking Permit By Zone so that people could park near their home. Say further that the City put a 4-hour limit on the 1,000 unmarked spaces downtown, BUT exempted vehicles with any zone’s Residential Parking Permit. Using the voting precinct numbered parking districts above, for example, a person who holds a Zone 1 Residential Parking Permit could park in any unmarked space in the City, including the 1,000 unmarked spaces downtown. So instead of competing with homeowners for their spaces, they are competing with visitors but have just as many spaces to choose from. The sign in the picture below could say, for example, “4-Hour Parking, 9 am to 11 pm, Except Vehicles With Any Zoned Residential Parking Permit.” The Permits would still get you 4-hours free at the beaches and select lots, but would no longer compete with people who actually live on a block. And yes, all the Zones should be the same $120.
5. Make It Easy to Find Long-Term Parking with Better Wayfinding
Direct people to long-term garages and parking lots with better wayfinding signage and marketing before they get to downtown and through downtown, all the way to the destination. This way visitors aren’t hunting all over the place for on-street parking. Even better, coordinate with all the lots and garages and direct people to those less full with dynamic signage. Don’t forget to develop a truck/delivery plan for downtown so it is less congested with delivery and trash and recycle vehicles at all times of the day. Coordinate the merchants and plan the hours.
6. Build a Park-n-Ride Lot on Stock Island and Bus People In
The 10-Year Key West Transit Development Plan calls for expanding the current Key West Transit facility on Stock Island to establish an Intermodal Center with bus transfer facilities and a park-and-ride for personal vehicles and tour buses. The plan calls for busing visitors to downtown every 15 minutes, seven days a week on a free Key West Intermodal Connector bus “allowing the reduction of ever-increasing congestion and parking demand.”
7. Give the Parking Department Additional Resources
In order to do this, we need to better equip our small Parking Department with the resources to to collect better data, do more robust research analysis of the data, do community outreach and ever importantly enforce the rules. And enforcement more than pays for the staff necessary to do these things. So yes, even in a downturn, get more people to do this, it pays for itself.
8. Make It Easier and Safer to Bike, Walk and Take the Bus
Coupled with all of this parking management activity is the knowledge that if we expect more people to switch from driving alone everywhere, we need to radically remake Key West Transit so that all routes resemble the Duval Loop – free, frequent and simple. We need to make it safe to bike everywhere in town by slowing cars down and providing protected bicycle lanes, greenways, trails and lots more bike parking. We also need to make it more safe to walk. We need to slow the cars and give preference to pedestrians on our crowded downtown streets – not cars.
When we right-price our valued downtown on-street parking via these parking management techniques and coordinate them with robust bike, walk and transit alternatives, it makes our streets more efficient and less crowded.
With less cars on our streets we just might get to turn over more of this valuable community asset to encourage more space on our main commercial streets downtown for wider sidewalks for people to sit, chat, eat and people gaze. It doesn’t have to be entire streets. It can be parts of streets or even just parklets. We might be able to turn over more of that asset for protected bicycle lanes and bicycle parking too. Or use it for trees. Even art.
Doing all this will be more friendly to our environment and help combat climate change. It makes us healthier. And happier too. Very importantly it helps local businesses prosper. It will help us build a thriving, vibrant downtown that visitors and residents will be happy to go to because it won’t be perceived as so crowded – with cars – anymore.
The Right Price for Parking. A Streetflims.org article and video.
Parking Management – Comprehensive Implementation Guide; 2 April 2020; by Todd Litman; Victoria Transport Policy Institute
The High Cost of Free Parking. An article and video at Vox.com
Why Free Parking Is Bad for Everyone. An article at Vox.com
Draft 2005 City of Key West sponsored Park Study There’s some good stuff in here.
City of Key West Carrying Capacity Traffic Study, December 2011 – This oft-referenced study measures the City of Key West capacity to “carry” or move and park cars conveniently using measures such as Level of Service (LOS) that are better used on highways, not where people live. No doubt that traffic flow can be “optimized” with better signal timing and the like, but physical improvements to the roads to make it quicker to get in and out and park, is now a thoroughly debunked science in good city planning. This stuff is better left to car-dependent mainland Florida places, not Key West.
By Roger McVeigh
The pause created by the Covid Pandemic offers an opportunity for a whole new restart when Key West Transit comes back. Let’s implement changes now, rather than wait for the future.
An improved, vibrant, frequently used public transit system is vital to our community’s long-term sustainability.
This strategic community asset can be funded primarily from federal and state funding sources. Transportation funding is often dependent on increases in ridership, and a reinvented Key West public transit system will enable residents and visitors to go car-free. More riders means more outside funding which means less tax burden on the residents of Key West.
Enabling residents and visitors to go car-free leads to improvements in the quality of life of all residents, including cleaner air, less traffic congestion, and safer streets for pedestrians, bicycles and all road users.
A successful public transit system will help alleviate our workforce housing and income inequality challenges, making it easier and more feasible for our workforce, to thrive without owning a vehicle, an annual savings of $10,000 per year.
A long-term recommendation from the June 2018 final report of the City Commission appointed Parking and Alternative Transportation Committee group, states: “the City Manager and Public Transit Director should evaluate and overhaul the transit system to create significant increases in ridership through an emphasis on frequency, simplicity, communications and reliability.” Further, the report highlighted key actions needed:
- Expanding Duval Loop to include Truman Waterfront and Higgs/White Street corridor and establishing a North Roosevelt Loop
- Increasing frequency of Lower Keys Shuttle and consolidating local bus routes, freeing up assets to increase frequency on remaining routes, increasing ridership
- Adding free dependable WiFi to all public transit vehicles and providing an education, rebranding, and marketing campaign
Key West Transit used these recommendations in working with a consultant to develop an ambitious and forward thinking 10-Year Transit Development Plan (TDP) that was adopted by the City Commission in November 2019. The TDP represents the community’s visions and goals for transit in Key West and provides the strategic road map for the future of Key West Transit, achieving the goals highlighted above and then some.
The TDP Executive Summary highlights the community’s desire for more frequent and simple service and proposes new local “Loop” and “Connector” routes that achieve this goal by 2021. Change the routes now, before service is restarted. We’ve already got a plan. We just need to implement it sooner.
Key capital, infrastructure, and technology improvements recommended in the TDP including establishing the Key West Intermodal Center (park and ride lot on Stock Island), purchasing smaller bus vehicles, implementing bus locator apps and mobile fare payment systems (unless going fare free), enforcing parking regulations, and expanding marketing awareness. can come later. We may want to consider proposing a quarter to half percent sales tax in Monroe County to to provide funding to repair our long-neglected roads and to upgrade our antiquated public transit system. This approach would shift the burden from local property taxes and homeowners to tourists by funding these infrastructure improvements from the spending by our 4 million annual visitors.
Can you imagine how many fewer cars and the reduction in traffic that would result:
- Free and reliable transit service from Stock Island to Old Town every 15 minutes?
- Service from the Key West International Airport to Old Town every 20 minutes?
- 15-minute Loops downtown, Midtown, and in New Town?
Key West has a hard-working and dedicated transportation department comprising almost 40 transit professionals led by Rod Delostrinos, a military veteran with a background in logistic and a natural leader. Empower Rod and his team by giving them direction, and a modest amount of resources.
NOW! What better time to act than a whole new restart of Key West Public Transit offered by the pause created by the Covid pandemic. City Management and the City Commission can undertake the improvements NOW.
About Roger McVeigh
A 15-year resident of Key West, Roger has been dedicated to public service since retiring in 2006 from a career in public accounting as a Partner with KPMG LLP in Atlanta, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida. He’s a graduate of the City of Key West Ambassador Academy (2007) and the Community Foundation of the Florida Keys Leadership Success Academy (2009). Roger is active in local government and has served as a Board Member and often Treasurer of a diverse group of nonprofit and civic organizations covering education, social services, recreation and the arts, among others. He’s currently serving on the Advisory Committee for the City of Key West Crosstown Greenway Project, the City of Key West Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and the Lower Keys Medical Center Board of Trustees.
Roger hails from Knoxville, Tennessee, attended both Emory University and Georgia State University and received his BBA in Accounting from Georgia State in 1983.Roger lives with his beautiful wife Cindy, and their two chihuahuas, Oreo and Cocoa in Old Town. He loves his adopted home of Key West, enjoys travel, hiking, supporting University of Tennessee Volunteer sports teams, and endurance sports including swim/bike/run events.
Photo Credit Michael Beattie at Conch Scooter blog.
With indoor seating for restaurants limited to 25% of capacity, it is time to let our struggling local restaurants take to the sidewalks and streets for customer seating. A 50 seat restaurant is now limited to 13 seats indoors. Who can survive on that? We have a huge public asset in the form of streets that we can use to help during these “strange and unusual times.”
According to the Governor’s guidelines there is no limit on outdoor seating as long as you follow the distancing rules of tables being six feet apart. Outdoor seating will allow restaurants to perhaps get a portion of their capacity back. Let the restaurants use the sidewalks and streets, FREE OF CHARGE, WITH NO PERMITS, to put out tables. While we’re at it, if retailers want to put some displays in the streets, let them. Close portions of Duval Street and the adjacent 400 and 500 blocks that have restaurants, like on Greene, Caroline, Eaton, Fleming, Southard, Petronia and perhaps more.
The Mayor and City Manager should just do this administratively. Now, as restaurants are starting to reopen.
We don’t need wasteful car storage for the privileged few to take precedence over the community’s needs. Ban cars on Duval and these blocks from 4 pm to midnight. Or limit the car-traffic to 5 MPH and one side of the street. Dare we say bring back the Mall on Duval or Duval Street Promenade?
While we are doing this we can use the summer to plan for these same blocks to take over parking areas using parklets, so that by the fall there’s procedures for doing so.
In laying down a fee on visitors using the Duval Loop last night the Mayor reasoned “We’re in some very strange and unusual times right now. We’re going to have to make some unprecedented decisions,” So let’s do just that and get this done now please.
Tuesday, May 5, 2020; 7:30 pm
With only Commissioners Kaufman and Weekley voting NO, the Key West City Commission voted 5-2 on Tuesday night to impose a $1.00 boarding fee for visitors using the City’s Duval Loop. While not in the published reports, Commissioners had been swayed by the City Manager and Transit Director (IMHO laughable) estimates that the new fee could bring in an estimated $380,000 per year – covering half the cost of running the Loop. Commissioner Weekly was able to get an amendment attached that this issue would be revisited within six months of the service’s restart. All the Commissioners expect Mr. Wardlow voted with that change. So at least we have another try in six months.
This is terribly disappointing news for all the reasons we’ve previously reported. As the Mayor and Commissioner Weekley both noted, there had never been so many people that had used the City’s online eComment to voice their opinion on an agenda item before tonight. All but one of the 28 online written comments opposed the new fare. Despite the unprecedented outpouring against the action, a 5-2 majority voted not to care what the residents thought. (Note the eComments are posted here at the end of the story.)
Both Commissioners Kaufman and Weekley were passionate in their defense of leaving it alone. Mr. Weekley cited the Loop’s success in encouraging visitors to drive less and leave coveted parking spots for locals. Mr. Kaufman also citing the Loop’s amazing success, questioned the timing, asking “What’s the urgency of making this decision now instead of during the budget process. I’d rather talk about the whole transit budget at the same time, why tonight?” In response the City Manager said:
“As you know Commissioner we started the budgetary process yesterday. You know we’re trying, there are so many unknowns in this budget process. I’m like, even this one, we can project a certain amount of money that we anticipate this generating over the rest of this fiscal year and into next fiscal year, but at this point everything’s a guess, we have no idea what sales taxes are gonna be, we have no idea how our tourism economy is going to rebound, there are, yesterday, we are cutting and we’re gonna be and I’ve never been through a budget like this and I’ve sat through a lot of budgets. We’re gonna, our number one goal is to come in as lean as we possibly can and identify as many potential revenue sources as we can. And when talking about what transit looks like going into the future, this obviously came to the forefront, and we thought we’d bring it before you, so I can’t sit here and guarantee you that its gonna generate $380,000, I can’t guarantee its gonna generate $80, its just something we’re looking at as a potential source of revenue going into this year when revenues are going to be really lean and costs are going to be even leaner.”
Mr. Kaufman cautioned that altering the service “could have bigger consequences than we’re thinking about right now.” He also offered that if there’s a decline in ridership and the service is perceived as less successful it will make it that much harder to change other city routes in the future.
Both Commissioners Hoover and Davila seemed to only want to do this as a temporary measure in tough times to help us get by right now. Mr. Davila pointed out he thinks all the bus routes should be free. Something Commissioner Kaufman echoed.
Commissioner Lopez simply said he didn’t see anything wrong with approving it on visitors and didn’t seem as though he’d thought any of this through except that the City Manager asked for it.. The Mayor said “We’re in some very strange and unusual times right now. We’’re going to have to make some unprecedented decisions,” and then voted for the change.
So despite the outpouring of citizen opposition and despite the fact the business and lodging community who depend on it and haven’t been around to participate in the decision, the Commission seemed to want to do something, anything, well, because “unprecedented times” and grab some revenue and perhaps seem like they are doing something. I suppose with everything going on we can expect that. But we have to hope our elected officials don’t succumb to doing things that will hurt our future in the name of expediency because of the Coronavirus. We need to be able to have our eye on the future as we deal with realities today.
By the way, we promise to come back with an article in the future showing how ludicrous that $380,000 revenue projection is. This number seemingly come via 410,000 riders and estimates that 80% of those are visitors, who will then pay $1 for the service.
Tonight’s decision is penny wise and pound foolish. So much for a more walk, bike, transit friendly downtown. At least for now….
Below are screen captures of the record number of eComments that citizens made opposing the new fare. The screen capture was taken Tuesday afternoon and the comments are no longer available on the City’s web site:
Friends of Car-Free Key West‘s Chris Hamilton joins Key West journalist Gwen Filosa on her weekday morning show “It’s Too Early!” on Island 106.9 FM on Monday, May 4, 2020. Gwen and Chris discussed the Duval Loop bus and the City’s proposal to impose a $1.00 fee on visitors using the very successful “FREE and Frequent” downtown circulator bus. Take a listen to a very engaging 30 minutes! You can find Gwen on Facebook here.