Streets for People / Reimagining Key West – 10 Goals for a Better Future and 10 Actions to Get There

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and published for KONK Life newspaper on September 17, 2021 and is reprinted here with permission.

We brought this story to our readers about 18 months ago in a different venue and are bringing it back to share with a new audience. While certainly much has changed since the time this was first published in April 2020, it seems that the 10 goals to strive for making Key West a better place and 10 actions or ways to achieve those goals are all still valid. We hope these spark thoughtful discussion.

Reimagining Key West – 10 Things We Should Strive For and 10 Ways to Get There

By Chris Hamilton, April 22, 2020; Main Photo Credit Rob O’Neil, March 29, 2020

The Great Pause foisted upon us by the Coronavirus Pandemic gives us an opportunity to reset. As individuals and as communities. It gives us time to reimagine how things can be different in the future. People are waking up to cleaner air, crystal clear water teeming with fish, nature coming back, un-congested streets and a new appreciation for simpler ways. We should realize we have the power to not just rush back to a world that looks exactly the way it was before. Even if politicians and companies turn things back on, are people really going to feel comfortable going back to a go-go, mass consumption, crowded and crazy race to keep up with the Joneses? Are things ever going to be the same? With this new awakening what are the good things we want more of? What are the bad things we just shouldn’t bring back? And how do we make that future happen?

Here in Key West many thoughtful people have been putting together ideas for Reimagining Key West’s future.

10 Things We Should Strive For

I basically hear people yearning for a Key West that is simpler, less crowded and more about our residents. In reimagining Key West, here’s 10 things we should strive for.

  1. A less expensive place to live. Where there is enough affordable housing for people who want to live here full-time. Where people can afford to live and work in the City rather than having to drive miles and miles to afford a home.
  2. Jobs that pay a living wage or that are good enough so that one job can cover the rent or mortgage.
  3. A place where local Mom and Pop shops rule. Where one can afford to start a business and not have to compete with national chains for space.
  4. A community where everyone respects, protects, and celebrates our natural environment. Our air, waters, coral reef and all the living creatures in them. Where sustainable fishing and boating are done in an eco-friendly way.
  5. A culture where creativity flourishes in the arts – visual, literary, musical, theatrical, film and other – for locals and people from around the world. A culture where these creative people give us events, festivals, parties and more art – however you define it – than any town in the world of similar size.
  6. Stewardship of our history, storied characters, and unique One Human Family story and that preserves and shares this heritage with the world.
  7. Veneration of our historic district – the U.S.A’s largest of wood frame buildings, and educating people about our architectural legacy.
  8. Revitalization of our Main Street, Duval Street, and make it welcoming to residents as well as tourists. Make it more pedestrian oriented, with wider sidewalks, benches, cafe seating and more trees and shade.
  9. Making it easy and safe for more of us to get around more often by walking, biking and the bus.
  10. Embodying our One Human Family motto in everything we do. We should continue to attract people who move to the beat of a different drummer, from bohemians, hippies, dreamers, the LGBTQ community, anyone who’s starting over or reinventing themselves or whatever you want to call different.

We DO want to share all this with visitors. But we want visitors that can appreciate what our island has to offer on its own terms and merits without the expectation of mass culture or consumption that degrades all we’re trying to preserve, protect and enhance. If visitors can’t respect these terms, we should ask them to go elsewhere.

10 Ways to Get There

Here’s some things we can do to get more of the Key West we want:

  1. Limit the cruise ships. Enough has already been written on this topic so as not to warrant further elaboration. Suffice it to say research shows that the environmental degradation these behemoths bring to our small island outweighs their benefits.
  2. Incentivize and build more workforce and affordable housing. Build it downtown where people can be close to most of the jobs and not be forced to drive. More than half the people who work in the City live in the County. That means too many people are driving. This wasn’t the case in the 1970’s and 80’s – a time lots of people feel nostalgic for. Back then, most people who worked in the City, lived here too. That made it less congested and friendlier. Some ideas: Start with approving the Porches project. That’s 480 units and 750 people downtown. Approve a similar project, with retail on the bottom on the property for sale at Duval at United Street. Perhaps another 200 units and 300 people. Build something similar on the huge parking lot of the La Concha. Put these units on top of the parking. Another 200 units and 300 people. Do the same on the City’s Caroline Street surface lot and you get another 100 units and 150 people. Double up on incentives for family-size units. That’s almost 1,000 units and about 1,500 living downtown year-round. More people living downtown will help local business too.
  3. Pass a Living Wage bill in Key West.
  4. Don’t allow any more transient rental licenses. Period.
  5. When the Truman Annex Transient Rental Licenses expire in 2025, LET THEM EXPIRE. No exceptions. Period.
  6. Find a way to sunset as many existing transient rental licenses as possible. Don’t let them transfer with a property sale. Buy them out. Or sunset them far into the future. That or jack up their annual fees or taxes.
  7. Re-allocate a majority of the TDC’s (Monroe County Tourist Development Council) marketing funds back to the City, County and non-profits for infrastructure and operating projects (See #8 and #9).
  8. Invest in infrastructure. With interest rates at record lows, we’d be silly not to take money that is practically free. Rebuild Duval Street with wider sidewalks, benches, and trees. Start to elevate our streets. Refresh our beaches. Invest more in coral reef restoration. Pump money into Key West Art and Historical Society and its museums, into our historic district, into all of the non-profit art associations. Build a Rainbow Museum about our LGBTQ history. Demarcate the historic district. Invest in electric buses for Key West Transit and the Duval Loop. Provide better wayfinding signage. Build protected bikeways and bike trails. Put in more bike parking.
  9. Invest in our people and the things that make this island unique. Move the College of the Florida Keys downtown so its more part of the community. Make it free. Instead of the TDC spending money on marketing, it should spend money on providing operating support for Key West non-profit history, art and eco museums and cultural offerings (the State Department of Cultural Affairs has a similar General Program Support grant but it is always underfunded. The TDC could just supplement what the State gives without having to invent a whole new process).
  10. Work to make Key West a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is Nance Frank’s idea and I love it.

Thanks to the founders of Reimagining Key West for the opportunity to share my thoughts.
– Chris Hamilton, Key West resident
For similar thoughts Follow us over at Friends of Car-Free Key West.
Here’s a shorter version of the article published in the Citizen as a Letter to the Editor on April 30, 2020.

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

Serious Bikeshare in the U.S.A. is 11 Years Old. Its Success Shows Cities Can Do Innovative Work

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written for and published by KONK Life newspaper on September 10, 2021 and is reprinted here with permission.

Today we’re reprising an article we brought our readers in a different venue a year ago. The story has relevance to us here in my hometown of Key West and other cities for several reasons:

  1. Bikeshare and now e-scooters or micromobility, as they are commonly called together, are changing the way we move about our cities for the better. They are efficient, clean-powered and healthy. They help us reclaim space from cars and repurpose it for people.
  2. The back story of the country’s first major bikeshare program shows that local governments, working cooperatively with each other and the private sector, can make our cities better places.
  3. The success and replication of this program, Capital Bikeshare, shows that local governments with the guts and leadership to try new things win the future.

My hometown of Key West, maybe like your hometown too, is full of wonderful people and good ideas that would make our community’s future better. We have ideas for pedestrianizing more of our downtown streets, revamping our public transit system, and making it safer and easier to bike and walk. Yet time after time, ideas are quashed by naysayers, NIMBYS, whataboutism and moneyed special interests. Projects that do get going wither on the vine from inattention, turnover, budget constraints and incompetence. It is a wonder we get anything new done. And yet…

And yet, we have the example of Capital Bikeshare. A program pushed forward by multiple local governments that included funding from private sources, local, State and Federal funds. A program that showed, YES, government can still do good things. I ask you to read this story with that in mind. Then apply the lessons learned here and in my good friend Gabe Klein‘s awesome book Start-Up City and go out and do good things. Enjoy…

Capital Bikeshare is 10 Years Old. Its Success Hinged on Pioneers Working Together.

By Chris Hamilton, September 13, 2020

In just 10 short years bikeshare has changed the way we move about our cities. Here’s a little more back story on the pioneers who worked together to transform transportation in North America.

September 20, 2020, marks the 10th Anniversary of Capital Bikeshare, the first successful, large-scale bikeshare program in the U.S.A. After a decade of growth, a system that began with 400 bicycles at 49 stations now has nearly 5,000 bikes at almost 600 stations in 3 states. More impressive is that the massive success of CaBi, as it is affectionately known, sparked a movement that now sees similar bikeshare operations in 120+ cities across North America. 10 years later Capital Bikeshare is still one of the top systems having been named North America’s best just a few months ago (Six Best Bikeshare Systems in the U.S. and Canada, Money Crashers, June 20, 2020).

Bikeshare, along with the micro-mobility devices that followed it, have in a very short time, revolutionized the way we get around our cities. If not for the daring and teamwork of some pioneers in the D.C. region, who knows how long it may have taken to prove the feasibility of this idea and catch on the way it did. The best systems have become such a staple of everyday living that one can’t even imagine the Washington, D.C. region or the cities of New York or Chicago today without their respective bikeshare.

Two innovative DOTs took a leap of faith on the concept.

Gabe Klein DDOT Director and Chris Hamilton Commuter Services Chief

What’s remarkable is that a couple of local government entities, the District of Columbia and Arlington County, Virginia Departments of Transportation, jointly took a leap of faith, launched and then quickly expanded a unified system without the usual and laborious bureaucracy and proof of concept planning that precedes most government projects. As a result, the agencies hit the ground running, met immediate acclaim, and that success fueled further growth. It was only once Capital Bikeshare was firmly established as an ongoing concern, a couple years into the project, that the DOTs took a breath and generated “transit development plans” or TDPs that covered long-term planning, expansion and financing that cements the system as a permanent part of the region’s transportation infrastructure.

DDOT mirrored its chief, acted like a start-up and pushed the project over the finish line.

Gabe Klein’s book Start-Up City discusses the birth of Capital Bikeshare.

It was a perfect storm of people and opportunities that made it all come together. The District had tried a small 10-station bikeshare project called SmartBikeDC that generated early adopter fans. D.C.’s progressive mayor, Adrian Fenty, hired for his District Department of Transportation (DDOT) Chief an unconventional, entrepreneurial, start-up guy in Zipcar executive Gabe Klein who knew how to get stuff done quickly. Mr. Klein assembled an amazing team of like-minded people who ensured the eventual Capital Bikeshare project felt more like a private start-up than a government run project. Once Gabe decided to abandon SmartBikeDC’s operator Clear Channel Outdoor and join with Arlington’s bikeshare procurement, he and his people made the CaBi project blossom and pushed it over the finish line.

Gabe’s team included true believers like Jim Sebastian and Chris Holben, who did all the planning under the direction of their their boss Karina Ricks. Alice Kelley, Scott Kubly, John Lisle, Karen Le Blanc, and others were part of Gabe’s brain trust. Gabe and a host of others at DDOT ensured success. This story is well chronicled in Gabe’s awesome book, Start-Up City (our review of the book), on Wikipedia and in a number of articles that appeared in the news within a few years of the launch (Many Unsung Heros Made Capital Bikeshare a Reality, by Dave Alpert, Greater Greater Washington, 1/9/13; The Best Bikesharing Program in the United States – How D.C. of all places, made it happen. by Tom Vanderbilt, Slate.com, 1/7/13.)

SmartBikeDC

But a lesser known subplot of the story had developed concurrent with the District’s efforts on the other side of the Potomac. For Capital Bikeshare’s launch to actually happen on September 20, 2010, this story had to advance over the course of a few years on both sides of the Potomac before coming together. Without this set of circumstances serendipitously happening, just this way, bikeshare as we have come to know it, may not exist.

Arlington Commuter Services entrepreneurial spirit gave life to an idea and wouldn’t give up in the face of bureaucracy.

Chris Hamilton and Paul DeMaio

Across the river in Arlington County, the Arlington DOT had a successful entrepreneurial Bureau (Commuter Services) that for more than a decade had been using top of the industry private contractors to pioneer groundbreaking retail (The Commuter Store), business to business (Arlington Transportation Partners), community outreach (BikeArlington and WalkArlington), internet (CommuterPage.com, CommuterDirect.com and more), marketing (Arlington’s Car-Free Diet) and research services (Mobility Lab) that relied on an intricate maze of outside grants and self-generated funding. It’s accolades and success (A Dozen Easy Principals for Organizational Success), allowed it to act autonomously enough to bypass some of the usual bureaucracy to bring new projects to market. That included Capital Bikeshare. The management part of that team included: Lois DeMeester, Bobbi Greenberg, Jay Freschi, Chris Eatough, John Durham and Howard Jennings.

The Bike Arlington Team – Chris Eatough, Chris Hamilton, Henry Dunbar, Erin Potter, Dennis Leach, Lois DeMeester and Paul DeMaio in May, 2015 at the National Building Museum Gala Honoring Capital Bikeshare.

It started with this team, whose mission was to “make it easy” to use transit, bike, walk and share the ride, believing in the idea and dream of one of its younger team members, Paul DeMaio. Paul traveled to Europe and brought back stories of nascent bikeshare projects in Germany (Call-a-Bike comes to mind). He painted such a vivid picture of solving first and last mile transportation issues at one of the team’s annual strategic planning meetings, that everyone encouraged Paul to write a proposal for the unit to submit a grant for State “experimental” transportation funding. When it wasn’t funded the first year, it was resubmitted again and got funded a year later. Paul was then tasked to lead the Arlington effort and the entire bureau committed to making the project happen. Something this different would take a multi-disciplinary and entrepreneurial team to bring it to life. Luckily, in Commuter Services, bikeshare found life.

Angie Fox, then Executive Director of the Crystal City BID

Once seed funding was found via the State grant, the Crystal City Business Improvement District’s insightful leaders (Angie Fox and Rob Mandle) volunteered to match the State money if the County would agree to start the project in Crystal City. In fact, concentrating on one specific neighborhood helped the project. Then DOT Director, avid bicyclist and annual European bike trip traveler Dennis Leach, who protected and nurtured Commuter Services’ vision from the rest of the bureaucracy, came up with half of the initial funding by matching the state grant and BID monies.

With money in hand and the realization that the project couldn’t be done with County staff (too many hoops to ramp up), the team turned to look for a contractor to operate the system. The idea was modeled after the County’s ART bus system, where Arlington owned the buses but hired a private company to manage and operate the system. The County was also responsible for all marketing and public relations for ART. Commuter Services just happened to already be the unit that did the ART bus marketing, so this model was envisioned to work similarly for bikeshare. The County would own the equipment, hire an operator and keep the marketing and public/community relations in-house.

The Commuter Services team didn’t think of bikeshare as just biking or a novelty but rather as an extension of the transit system and as a serious addition to the transportation service mix offered by the County. This philosophy undergirded everything and was a large part in how needed people, throughout the government hierarchy who were pre-disposed to not spend money or take on new projects, were brought into the fold. Arlington already had a reputation for “smart growth” and getting people to use transit. If bikeshare was seen as part of that, then it didn’t seem so foreign. This strategy was crucial in gaining acceptance. (Read: Cities Must Understand Bikeshare Is Transit)

Lois DeMeester, Jay Freschi, Chris Hamilton and Bobbi Greenberg

Using the ART bus operation as a framework, County Attorney Bruce Kimble and Purchasing Agent Maryam Zahory likely spent 100 hours (volunteering nights with Commuter Services) to draw up a never-before-been-done Request for Proposals (RFP) and then a contract for the unproven concept. Thousands of municipalities had contracts for bus systems. But THIS kind of bike transit system had never been tried before. Their painstakingly meticulous and pioneering work eventually paved the way for other cities across the U.S.A. (the RFP and contract was widely shared) to put out similar contracts for service, spurring bikeshare across the continent.

Regional cooperation wins out.

A small portion of the bike stations in Arlington, on the left side of the Potomac and the District.

By now our story has taken a couple years just to get to this point. Having heard that the District was having problems with Clear Channel and thus might need a Plan B, the team ensured the RFP and contract allowed for other local jurisdictions in the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments to “ride” or piggyback Arlington’s contract without having to go through their own entire procurement process to purchase their own set of bikes and stations and thus create a regional system. District of Columbia, City of Alexandria, VA and Montgomery County, MD staff were asked to sit on the RFP selection panel as a result. After months of work, the group selected Alta Bicycle Share, a company that was set up specifically for this project by Alta Planning & Design from Portland, OR. This spin off company was later acquired by Motivate.

Chris Zimmerman, Dennis Leach and Jay Fisette

Even as a vendor was being selected, the District was still holding out hope with their talks to use SmartBikeDC vendor Clear Channel Outdoor. A couple forward thinking, smart-growth champions, County Board Members Chris Zimmerman and Jay Fisette, insisted on a regional approach and didn’t want Commuter Services staff to move forward differently from D.C. They initiated a meeting with DDOT’s Gabe Klein and Arlington staff.

It helped that a number of influential local bloggers at Greater Greater Washington, TheWashCycle and Beyond D.C., among others, cheered for bikeshare in the region and also insisted that different systems on either side of the Potomac made no sense. It aided the cause that the Alta Bicycle Share vendor proposed using the amazing Montreal Bixi system bikes. The solar-powered system didn’t need to be hard-wired like SmartBikeDC and the bikes were much more sturdy. After the meeting, the Clear Channel route was abandoned by the District and Arlington and D.C. staff moved forward together on a unified project.

Two DOT’s working together with a shared belief in an idea and in each other.

Just a few days after Capital Bikeshare launched on September 20, 2010 the District, Arlington and Alta Bicycle Share teams met at Nationals Ballpark to watch the Presidents conduct their 5th inning race using Capital Bikeshare bikes. We knew we’d arrived when the roar of the crowd saw the Presidents on our bikes.

Although both agencies were using the same contract to work with Alta Bicycle Share to create a brand new bikeshare system, there was no formal compact, memorandum of understanding, or agreement between the DOTs on who did what and how they’d manage that system. The District and Arlington owned their own respective equipment (the stations and bikes – although the bikes could cross jurisdictional lines), shared managing the vendor and were responsible for all marketing and PR. The people involved, on both sides of the Potomac had a shared belief in the project.

Everyone respected the respective strengths each brought to the table and trusted each other to have the best interests of the whole at heart. That faith in the idea and each other fueled the project. Another common bond between the District and Arlington teams was respect for the vendor Alta Bicycle Share, who brought an amazingly strong team of their own to the project (Alison Cohen and Charlie Denney among them). Too often government entities treat contractors at arms length or worse, like serfs. But Mr. Klein’s background in the private sector and Commuter Services experience using private contractors elevated the endeavor to a true partnership between all three entities. It clicked. And the results were fun and amazing.

This is how Alison Cohen put it in a 2013 interview:

“From the agency side, the team that I worked with from DDOT and Arlington was so professional and incredible, the real thought that I had was “don’t mess up”. During that first launch, there was a lot of learning between Alta, PBSC and the clients, and we ended up working all together to make sure that everything was covered. We at Alta ended up being in the middle to fill in all the gaps in this first-ever bike share contract. It was a very tiring and very exciting 4 months from when we completed our contract in May 2010 to system launch in September 2010. There was such a wave of dedication from all of the staff of the agencies, all the staff that we hired, and from PBSC to ensure a successful launch.” League of American Bicyclists, June 4, 2013, Women Bike Wednesday: Alison Cohen, Bike Share Pioneer

Yes, the system was almost named George.

The D.C., Arlington and Alta teams worked with Arlington’s marketing firm (Alberto GonzalezPulsar Advertising which included Jim Wright and Katherine Carlson) to come up with a name and branding. Yes, we almost called the system George, after our first president. WeCycle was another popular choice. Capital Bikeshare and CaBi won out for a variety of reasons including trademark issues and testing with the public. Pulsar had also worked with the Downtown DC BID on the branding of the D.C. Circulator bus and this would become visually evident later as Gabe Klein insightfully insisted Capital Bikeshare branding be similar to the Circulator – thus the unified red, black and gold colors.

It further helped that the firm (Destination Sales and Marketing Group, (DS&MG) headed by the amazing entreprenaur Lois DeMeester, the District was using for its TDM marketing program, goDCgo, and would be responsible for much of the marketing and social media rollout, was the same contractor working for Arlington Commuter Services on various projects. In fact goDCgo staff (Katie Sihler headed the effort) sat next to the Bike Arlington (DS&MG) staff (Chris Eatough and Tim Kelley) responsible for Arlington’s portion of the rollout.

“Don’t underestimate how hard it is to work together to make something happen.”

With a contract vendor, branding and marketing teams in place, this is where Gabe’s management and communications’ team took the lead heading into the summer before the launch. It made sense as they were the most heavily invested in terms of stations and bikes after all, and so they pushed the ball over the goal line toward the September 20 launch. The rest is history.

Me waving.

At the grand opening ceremony at the U.S. Department of Transportation, Arlington County Board Chairman Jay Fisette welcomed everyone “to the most bike friendly region in America!” He added:

“This is regional success. Don’t underestimate how hard it is for one jurisdiction to reach out to another and for two of them to work together to make something happen. And it’s only the beginning because Alexandria, Falls Church and Montgomery and Prince Georges Counties are next.”

He was right, the story of Capital Bikeshare happening may have seemed easy to the public. But the confluence of good people and goodwill and the serendipitous circumstances that had to occur to make this happen is the real untold story of CaBi. Congratulations to everyone involved, on both sides of the Potomac, in changing the region’s transportation system and showing the way towards a better future for the rest of the country. Happy 10th Anniversary!

– By Chris Hamilton, September 13, 2020

Resources about the history of Capital Bikeshare:

Gabe Klein’s book, Start-Up City – Inspiring Public and Private Entrepreneurship, Getting Projects Done and Having Fun vividly brings to life the go-go atmosphere of the project and time. I highly recommend the book!

Many Unsung Heros Made Capital Bikeshare a Reality
By David Alpert (Executive Director) January 9, 2013; article in Greater Greater Washington

The Best Bikesharing Program in the United States – How D.C. of all places, made it happen
By Tom Vanderbilt, January 7, 2013, Slate.com

Arlington TV Newsmakers video about the launch of Capital Bikeshare

Capital Bikeshare in Wikipedia

Cities Must Understand Bikeshare Is Transit, by Chris Hamilton, April 17, 2015

Women Bike Wednesday, Alison Cohen, Bike Share Pioneer; June 4, 2013; The League of American Bicyclists

Arlington County’s Capital Bikeshare page including reports, stats and more…

DDOT’s Capital Bikeshare page

Capital Bikeshare’s About and History page

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

Streets for People / Can We Save Key West Transit from a Death Spiral?

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written for and published by KONK Life newspaper on September 3, 2021 and is reprinted here with permission.

Census data shows almost no one takes the bus to commute to work. A recent Strategic Plan survey rating 19 City services said not enough residents used public transit to give it a rating. The new City North and South Line buses ride around empty. Duval Loop ridership is waning. This is a crucial year for our little municipal system for two reasons. One, we’ve got hundreds of units of affordable housing on Stock Island that should be coming online at this time next year and there’s no frequent bus service to get them into town. Two, much of the State funding propping up Key West Transit operations is based on ridership numbers, which are declining.

If the system doesn’t improve, ridership numbers will continue to drop and then next year our State funding will be less. This could force the system to make cuts in service which drives more people away, leading to worse numbers and risking a death spiral of even lower services for public transit here on the island. Recent planning efforts identified providing more frequency between buses as the way to serve riders better and increase the numbers of people riding the bus. But the City’s Finance Department didn’t want to spend more money to do that and so has said that they’ll instead try an untested idea to save money. While we might meet budget in the short-term are we dooming our public transit system? 

This is a copy of Key West Forward Traffic and Pedestrian Friendliness element section dealing with improving public transit by adding frequency on the North and South Lines to every 30 minutes from the current 80 – 90 minutes.

Plans to Upgrade Transit Formed Via Multiple Planning Processes 

Key West Transit’s adopted 10-Year Transit Development Plan (TDP), the City’s Sustainability Advisory Board (SAB) and the City’s soon to be adopted Key West Forward Strategic Plan* all called for increasing investment in our public transit system to pay bus drivers more, increase the abysmal frequency on all routes and move towards free fares. The Mayor and most Commissioners echoed the call during the budget hearings.

Through many meetings and multiple processes, a consensus was built that improved public transit was vital for our future prosperity and environment and that they way to improve our existing system was to follow the adopted TDP by simplifying the routes, adding frequency, and eventually getting to free transit on the island. The SAB implored the Commission to pay the drivers more, increase frequency and institute free fares in this coming fiscal year and to pay for it with hikes in metered parking. The recent Strategic Plan process came to the same conclusion and the draft of the Traffic and Friendliness element presented to the public and Commission in June stated that North and South Lines should go from the current 80 – 90 minutes to 30 minutes and on the Lower Keys Shuttle from 95 – 120 minutes to every 60 minutes. 

This is a snippet from the Sustainability Advisory Committee’s Priorities for Fiscal Year 2021-2022 that begins October 1, 2021. Their number one priority, as transmitted to the Commission, is fixing Key West Transit with more drivers and frequency.

Finance Department Blocks Consensus Built Plans

The Key West Transit adopted 10-Year Transit Development Plan (TDP) calls for getting to 15-minute frequency and free fares on all routes within the City.

So, after all this planning and consensus building everyone seemed a little surprised that the Finance Department presented a no-growth Transit budget for the coming year at the July 22nd City Commission Budget Workshop. Oh, that proposal by the Sustainability Advisory Board to increase metered rates was indeed instituted by the Finance Director. But rather than invest the money in transit, as the SAB proposed, it is going towards balancing the General Fund. Experts such as Parking Guru Donald Shoup, have always argued that increases in parking fees should go towards alternative transportation services or directly for infrastructure improvements on the streets they’re taken from, not the general welfare.

Without additional money to add frequency on the routes, the Transit Director had little choice but to throw a Hail Mary pass and propose an On-Demand Transit service (think Uber transit) that he and the Finance Director said wouldn’t need more drivers, wouldn’t need more budget and would be better for everyone. If he didn’t propose this pilot project, we’d simply get the same awful service that is out there today and that would surely start the death spiral. So, while we think the Transit Director should have fought harder for the money to improve the system as planned, we give him credit for coming up with an out of the box idea when told by Finance that the money wasn’t coming.

By the way, shouldn’t Finance help leaders fund priorities by getting creative instead of themselves deeming that since ridership is lacking it isn’t worth putting more money into? It is a classic chicken or egg situation here. We aren’t going to get good ridership numbers until we make the system better. That takes money. At least the Sustainability Advisory Board tried to find a way to pay for improvement. But we digress…

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

Units are rising fast at the 280-unit Wreckers Cay development on Stock Island. Another 140 are slated to get started on College Road. All these new residents could use some high frequency transit so they don’t have to drive into town.

September 13th Budget Hearing 

During the Strategic Planning process Mayor Johnston and others said the goal, as stated in the TDP, should be service every 15 minutes because that’s what’s really needed to attract people out of cars and increase ridership. But they settled on increasing frequency to 30 minutes in the coming fiscal year because it was so much better than the current 80 – 90 minutes and it gave them more time to build towards the ideal. When asked by Commissioner Sam Kaufman during the Strategic Plan presentation “How many years have we been talking about adding bus frequency? Do we even have the capacity to do this?” The Mayor answered:

“The answer is us (referring to herself and the Commissioners on the dais). Are we willing to spend the money that gets us there? The limiting factor is us and what we’re willing to commit to.”

The last chance for Commissioners to ask why they weren’t presented with an opportunity to commit to an investment in public transit with more frequency is the September 13th Budget Hearing. Yes, more drivers and more frequent service are going to cost more money, but isn’t that where we were headed before Finance stepped in? Will anyone speak up or will the Commission, having been provided cover from making any hard choices about spending additional dollars to improve our public transit, keep silent?

For the On-Demand pilot one would use a smartphone app to request a trip similar to hailing an Uber.

Rolling the Dice on Keeping the Death Spiral at Bay

By keeping silent the Commission will be rolling the dice and hoping and praying that this On-Demand pilot, which is untested in urban areas like ours, works. Because if it doesn’t, we’ll have lost a year in which we could have incrementally invested in more frequency and better routes. Which might have led to better ridership numbers and more money from the State. Which could lead to a positive spiral, more funding, and the ability to get frequencies down to 15 minutes.

If the Commission doesn’t commit to an investment in public transit and goes with the budget neutral pilot project, we really have no choice but to root for the Uber-like On-Demand Transit pilot to succeed. Who knows, maybe that Hail Mary pass will be caught and so many people will use it that we’ll need more drivers anyway to keep up with demand. Seems this may be our only hope in avoiding the death spiral. Yes, this is going to be a very important year for our little Key West Transit system. Stay tuned…

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*The original Improve Public Transit section of the Key West Forward Strategic Plan called for increasing frequency on the bus lines when formally presented to the Commission on June 15. The final version of the Strategic Plan that was just released and went to the Commission on September 1 included a switch to On Demand Transit that wouldn’t need more drivers and money.

16 Additional Articles on Key West Transit
  1. City to Make It Easier to Bike to the Lower Keys Shuttle Bus; August 20, 2021
  2. Uber-Like Transit Coming to Key West? July 30, 2021
  3. Mayor Bravely Puts Onus on Commission to Do Heavy Lifting on Bike, Walk and Transit. Will They Come Through? July 2, 2021
  4. How Better Transit and Bicycle Facilities Can Help Address Affordable Housing; May 14, 2021
  5. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – A Dozen Marketing Things KW Transit Can Do to Increase Ridership; April 9, 2021
  6. The Sorry State of Key West Bus Stops – We Just Don’t Care; April 2, 2021 
  7. Sustainability Board Wants to Make Free, Frequent and Simple Key West Transit a Reality; February 5, 2021 
  8. Key West Transit Abandons Old Meandering Routes, But… December 26, 2020
  9. FREE Fare on Duval Loop for Visitors is Back! December 21, 2020
  10. We Need Key West Transit to Communicate Their Path Forward; August 19, 2020
  11. Key West Transit Takes Step Towards Future with August Public Hearings; July 30, 2020
  12. Shhhhh… Key West Transit Has Quietly Changed Their Routes; May 20, 2020
  13. Reimagining Key West Transit; May 10, 2020
  14. Commission: No More Free Ride For You; May 5, 2020
  15. Keep Duval Loop FREE for Visitors; April 30, 2020
  16. City Adopts Ambitious 10-Year Key West Transit Plan; December 30, 2019

You can find all the KONK Life Streets for People column articles here.

Chris Hamilton
Chris Hamilton

A native of the District of Columbia, where for a couple decades+ he led the nationally renown Commuter Services unit for Arlington County, VA’s DOT, Chris has lived in Key West since 2015. He lives downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

Streets for People / We Need to Increase the Quantity and Quality of Bicycle Parking Downtown

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written for and published by KONK Life newspaper on August 27, 2021 and is reprinted here with permission.

Local bike shop owners tell us bicycle rentals and sales have been way up over the last year. Travel and economic reports indicate Key West has more visitors and business is booming downtown. Anecdotally, we see lots of people on bikes. On Duval and adjacent commercial streets, we’re observing full bike racks. As a result, bikes are parked on trees, streetlights, signposts, and fences – which doesn’t help our already overcrowded sidewalks. It’s time to add way more bicycle parking capacity downtown and go beyond the hodgepodge placement of bicycle racks to a system that places racks in the street (not on our crowded sidewalks) in the same places on every block, so people know what to expect. While we’re at it let’s put the Parking Department in charge of bicycle parking too.

More Visitors. More Business. More People on Bikes.

Everywhere you turn local, Florida and national news outlets have been publishing data that say Key West is experiencing record numbers for hotel occupancy rates and average room rates. Restaurants and bars that usually experience a dip in the summer, report jammed venues and exhausted staff. The Key West International Airport is experiencing the highest monthly totals of visitors ever. The season, it seems, is never ending. The boom means more people downtown especially. 

Says Evan Haskell, owner of We Cycle Bike Shops:

“Not only are there tons of people here and the town is maxed out, COVID-19 had the effect of getting more people active outdoors. Bike rentals are up, with 2021 looking to well exceed 2019 figures. I’d be selling bikes like crazy if I could get them. It’s a global bike boom for demand and that is compounded by the global shipping challenges affecting all imported good.”

Tom “The Bike Man” Thiesen, owner of Bike Man Bike Rentals:

“There are tons of people on the island and that equates to all the bike rental shops being very busy. Also, all the hotels in Key West are maxed out.”

More People on Bikes Puts a Strain on Our Limited Bike Parking and Crowds Our Narrow Sidewalks

We’re happy to see so many people using bicycles and walking to get around. That’s a good thing. But look around as you traverse Duval and adjacent streets. You’ll see the bike racks we do have are full and you’ll see every tree, streetlight, signpost, fence, and awning pole jammed with bicycles too. It makes our already overcrowded, narrow sidewalks harder to navigate and if you aren’t paying attention, you could get hurt. 

We have to go mostly on anecdotal information and observation here because the City just doesn’t track bicycle parking the same way it doggedly manages, maintains, and tracks the City’s downtown 1,800 car parking spaces in lots and garages and 3,000 on-street car spaces. 

The City’s Modest Plans for Bicycle Parking Downtown

In a May 2021 Transportation Report, presented to the City’s Sustainability Advisory Board and City Commission, Tim Staub, the now departed for grad-school Multi-Modal Transportation Coordinator, reported that during the last year the City installed “new racks on Caroline Street, the Pocket Park, the Truman Waterfront Park, and Varella and Duval Streets.” The report also says, “More to be installed at: Duval, United, Fleming, Front, Simonton, Grinnell, Frances, Dog Beach, Smathers Beach and the Community Sailing Center.” That’s it. No specific numbers or timetable. That’s the plan.

Follow-up with City staff revealed that: 

  • In Fiscal Year 2018 $30,000 was allocated for bike racks and all the money was spent. 
  • In FY19 no money was allocated to bike racks.
  • In FY20 $45,000 was allocated for bike racks and all the money was spent.
  • In FY21 – the current year – because they still have unplaced bike racks in storage, they moved the allocated $45,000 for new bike racks to FY22 to instead cover the match needed for the Last Mile project placing parking for bikes in racks and lockers at the Lower Keys Shuttle bus stops
  • In FY22 the current version of the budget includes $45,000 for bike racks. The budget has not yet been approved.

I’m told that with current prices and when accounting for shipping costs, that $45,000 in the coming year’s budget could net bicycle parking for about 1,000 bikes (2 bikes each per loop or rack) at a mix of 5 U’s, 4 U’s, 2, U’s and bollards. A “U” is simply a bike rack that looks like an upside down or inverted U. They can be strung together to consist of two to five or many more. A bollard usually consists of a single pole that includes a place to loop a lock through and is bolted to the ground.

What we can’t tell our readers is how much public bike parking exists. There isn’t an inventory of racks on the street. Nor can staff tell us the number of racks and exact locations of parking recently installed or in storage awaiting installation. Nor when and where and how many are to be installed other than what is in the above report. To be fair, without someone in Tim’s position, we shouldn’t expect this kind of information anytime soon either. 

But again, unlike our reporting on car parking herehere and here, without being able to put any real numbers to the problem our evidence for lack of capacity only comes from daily observations. 

More Quantity and Quality Bike Parking Needed

Getting people quickly and conveniently to and around downtown by bike is an easy way to help pedestrianize the area. Research shows bike parking is good for local business. Especially for spur of the moment or impulse buying because bikes make that easy. Our current bike parking seems very hodgepodge and not thought out. Some blocks seem to have a bunch of racks and others, nothing. On one block there are a series of bollards, often too close to cars or jamming people to walk single file. On other blocks there are a series of inverted U racks taking up space on the sidewalks or they are in the street. There’s no consistency on each block let alone the entirety of downtown. There seems to be abandoned bikes everywhere too.

The City’s adopted Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan identifies seven “Moving Forward – Transportation Programs and Policies” where the City needs to take “Action.” The fourth of those policies is:

“ACTION: Increase the Quantity and Quality of Bicycle Parking”

That’s where we get the name for our story. The action states “Bicycle parking is an essential element in a bicycle transportation network. People need to know that there will be a safe place to lock their bicycle at the end of their trip.” It goes on to say that “there should be enough bike racks or lockers to satisfy demand so bicycles are not parking where they should not.”

Based on simple observation, there isn’t enough parking. And while there is no detail in the report, the graphic accompanying this action indicates that for short-term parking, in addition to Sidewalk Bicycle Racks,” there should be “On-Street Bicycle Corrals.” 

At least in most places downtown let’s stop erecting the one-off bike racks in the sidewalk that force people to walk single file on some blocks and instead install bicycle corral parking in the street. Corrals are a great solution for places where demand for bicycle parking exceeds the available sidewalk space, like in Old Town.

What’s a Bicycle Corral?

A bike corral is a group racks installed adjacent to the curb in the parking lane of the street. Corrals typically provide parking for 10 to 24 bikes on 5 to 12 inverted U’s. Corrals use paint, small buffers and flexible bollards and a wheel stop or parking block to demarcate and protect their location. The advantages of using corrals include:

  • Corrals provide an inexpensive and efficient means of increasing total parking capacity
  • Corrals provide a 10 to 1 customer to parking space ratio vs car parking
  • Corrals advertise and promote “bike-friendliness”
  • Corrals clear the sidewalks for uses such as walking, window shopping and outdoor seating
  • Corrals improve visibility at intersections by eliminating the opportunity for large vehicles to park near the corner
  • Corrals increase the visibility of businesses from the street vs having a car parked in front

The most famous use of widespread bike corrals is in Portland, Oregon where at last count in 2019 the city had installed 158 of them, mostly at the request of business owners who asked for them to be placed at their building. 

Quality = Predictability: Place Corrals on Every Block Adjacent to Duval Street

I recall, four or so years ago, the affable and long-time Parking Director John Wilkins telling me he thought bicycle parking should be found in large numbers, corral style, in the first car-parking space on the corner of every street that crosses the length of Duval. He said this lends itself to installing scooter parking right next to the bicycles. His idea stuck with me because it’s a good one. 

One could simply replace the first car parking space on most of these crossing blocks where there’s space (Front, Greene, Caroline, Eaton, Applerouth, Fleming, Southard, Angela, Petronia, Olivia, Virginia, Catherine, Louisa, United and South) with a bicycle corral and/or replace the first two car parking spaces with bikes in the first and scooters in the second. Or on the south side of Duval put the scooters in and on the north side put the bicycles. The important thing is to do the same thing on every cross street from the Gulf to the Atlantic. The consistency makes it easy to remember. And as we said above, this provides better sight lines for turning vehicles at these intersections and so minimizes crashes with pedestrians and bicycles. Another advantage is the City doesn’t have to move the existing U racks off Duval Street for Fantasy Fest and special events like they do now – because the racks would already be on the side streets.

You can see a great example of this concept on the 500 block of Petronia at Duval across from the 801 Bar. The first parking space is for bikes. The second is for scooters and the third begins the car parking. That’s the way it should be up and down the corridor. On the 400 block Applerouth Lane near Mary Ellen’s there’s scooter parking and then a little bicycle parking hidden behind that. And on the 400 block of Eaton, in front of St. Paul’s, there’s weirdly a one car parking space, one space for bicycles and then one space for scooters. The parking in front of St. Paul’s vividly demonstrates how about 16 bikes can fit where one car parks. Other blocks like on the 500 block of Southard have scooter parking in the first spot. So, there’s already kind of a start to this concept. Now we just need to add it all along Duval. And while we’re at it lets find places to put corrals on other commercial blocks within the historic area. When the sidewalk is narrow, bike parking belongs in the street.

Quality = Artistic Designs and Longer Term Protected Parking

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that we’ve often heard people in the arts community advocate for some artistic designs for our bicycle parking. The Council of the Arts sponsored a nice design for bicycle racks and a bus stop at the Truman Waterfront Park. Could something be done long-term to upgrade the design quality? Yes. 

The Bike/Ped Plan also suggests the City investigate longer term, protected parking in the form of lockers, cages, and stations in high traffic areas downtown. And to consider event parking. All good ideas.

Abandoned Bikes

In chatting with Tom “The Bike Man” Thiesen about these ideas, he said of this story, it’s a “good plan.” He reminded us of the need for “monitoring bike racks for derelict bikes.” He’s right! A quick read of the various local Facebook groups around town or in the Citizen’s Voice column and you are sure to run into complaints about old, abandoned, or derelict bikes taking up space on our limited supply of racks. If only there was someone that could monitor the situation…

Perhaps Bike Parking Should Be Managed by the Parking Department

The City’s very well-run Parking Department does an excellent job in monitoring meters, loading zones and residential parking spaces, hmm… perhaps they could help. But the Parking Department has nothing to do with “bicycle” parking.

Why is that? 

The City has dozens of corral style bike racks in storage waiting for a home, but installation lags. Despite money in the budget, no one bought any new bike racks this year. Perhaps this is because the responsibility for bicycle paring rests with no one person or department. The Multi-Modal Transportation Coordinator position, which oversees new parking, resides in the Planning Department. When that position wants to install parking, it must be run through and approved by the Engineering Department because they control the streets. Then if something is approved it goes to the Community Services Department and waits for their Public Works Division to find the time to install it. We have no idea who monitors derelict bikes. Sounds like a bureaucratic black hole to us. Perhaps since Mr. Staub has recently left the position, it is time to rethink the way the City does bicycle parking.

Mr. Wilkins runs a tight ship in managing the Parking Department. He’s known for solid research and reporting. He’s good with his staff. He’s shown an affinity for multi-modal transportation as he’s part of a small group that launched the successful Duval Loop and he’s thought about bicycle parking as evidenced by his idea for bike corrals and scooters. Could not the people who oversee car parking spaces, loading zones and the like also monitor, and manage bicycle and scooter parking? No one knows the downtown streets better. So perhaps this department should manage all the curb space. We think it is an idea the City should consider.

More and Quality Bicycle Parking = a Better Downtown

Adding more bicycle parking, enhancing the quality of the facilities by using corrals, and making the parking placement more consistent will help our downtown function better. It will free up some needed space on our crowded narrow sidewalks as bikes move from trees, poles, and fences to proper spaces in the street. We may even get more people on bikes by making it easier to park. Our little island paradise always wins when we make it easier to bike. 

# # #


You can find all the KONK Life Streets for People column articles here.

Chris Hamilton
Chris Hamilton

A native of the District of Columbia, where for a couple decades+ he led the nationally renown Commuter Services unit for Arlington County, VA’s DOT, Chris has lived in Key West since 2015. He lives downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

Streets for People / City to Make It Easier to Bike to the Lower Keys Shuttle Bus

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written for and published by KONK Life newspaper on August 20, 2021 and is reprinted here with permission.

If all goes as planned, by this time next year the City will be in the process of installing bicycle racks and lockers, map and schedule information, hail lights, bicycle fix-it stations and trash and recycle bins at most of the 62 Lower Keys Shuttle bus stops between Marathon and Key West as well as 20 of the most frequently used North and South Line and Duval Loop bus stops. The effort is part of a “Final Mile” grant aimed to bridge the gap between people’s homes or destination and the bus stop.

Over the last couple of decades more people that work in Key West, have moved to the County to find cheaper housing. According to 2015 and 2021 surveys, traffic congestion is a top three problem with congestion along U.S. Route 1 and through the Triangle a familiar headache to many. The popular Key West Transit Lower Keys Shuttle (LKS) is one of the only alternatives to driving for people commuting in from the Lower Keys as the bike ride all the way is in just too far for most people. Investing in making the Lower Keys Shuttle easier to access provides an opportunity to get more people off the only road into town and decrease congestion and pollution.

The First and Final/Last Mile Problem

In transportation circles, the Last or Final Mile problem describes the difficulty in getting people from transit hubs, train stations and bus stops to their final destination after they get off the vehicle. The First Mile Problem is about the difficulty of getting people from one’s home to the beginning transit stop. Walking is the primary mode for getting to and from a transit stop. But research shows that most people will only walk a quarter mile or two to three blocks to reach a bus stop. Now think about our islands in the Lower Keys and how far away much of the housing is along U.S. Route 1 where the Lower Keys Shuttle bus stops are located. Extending that quarter mile radius around the bus stop by enabling people to use other modes to get to the stop means more riders. More riders mean less congestion on the Overseas Highway.

In many cities technology has enabled new ways to address first and last mile problems. Bikeshare and scooter share has proven to increase transit ridership on both ends of the trips. Park-n-ride lots allow people to drive to the bus stop and park for free for the day and hop on the bus or train. And many transit systems are experimenting with Uber, Lyft, taxis, and new-fangled micro-transit (van-sharing) to get people to and from transit stops. In formulating their grant, the City considered many of these options. In the end, what they will construct is a pretty good start at making transit, especially along U.S. Route 1 into Key West, an easier and more convenient alternative to driving.

The City’s Transit/Bike Champion Puts Together a Winning Strategy 

It is no surprise that Alison Higgins, the City’s Sustainability Coordinator for more than a decade, wrote the proposed “Final Mile” grant. She obviously works closely with Key West Transit staff. To her credit, Ms. Higgins has a long and storied record of championing transit and bikes as part of her sustainability role with the City. For example, she created and chairs the Transportation Coordination Team (TCT), which is a multi-departmental group that meets regularly to pull together transportation strategies. She was instrumental in helping to build the City’s Transportation Alternative Fund or TAF and the highly successful Duval Loop, which originally relied on TAF funding to get going. That and she championed the creation of the Bicycle Coordinator now Alternative Transportation Coordinator position. Says Alison of the Final Mile grant:

“This was a high priority project for the City’s internal Transportation Coordination Team.  The Final Mile project is a win win for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users, reducing vehicle miles travelled on our roads. While we need to make the Lower Keys Shuttle service more frequent, we hope that these amenities will reduce the barriers that are out there for folks who want to take a cheaper and less stressful way to get into town.”

As the project, which is 95% funded by the State, uses Federal dollars, there’s a rigorous planning process that must be adhered to before hardware starts getting installed. Ms. Higgins says that every stop, 80+ altogether, must have a plan including an environmental and cultural review. All the stops are at 60% completion. It is expected the stop designs will reach 90% by spring and that construction or installation bids will then go out for work to start next summer. Here’s what’s coming:

Space for 364 Bicycles in Racks and Lockers

As the Lower Keys Shuttle is popular, the two bicycle racks mounted to the front of the buses are often full early on in the run, leaving people who hop on outside of Marathon with no place to put their bike. Fights have been known to break out for the coveted spots. To address this, the City is installing space for 292 bikes in racks and 72 bikes in lockers at the most popular stops along the route. That’s 364 more riders that can access the bus from their homes by bike.

Hail Lights Installed at 43 Stops

Stops along the Lower Keys Shuttle that have enough right-of-way have standard bus shelters. Five new ones were installed just this past year. Each of these bus shelters have solar powered lighting so they can be seen at night by the bus driver and customers. On parts of U.S. Route 1 it can be dark. So, with this in mind, 43 stops that are in the darkness are slated to receive bright LED “hail lights.” A customer presses a button on the pole and a solar powered light on tops shines to alert the bus driver that someone is waiting at the stop. 

Information at Every Lower Keys Shuttle and Many Downtown Bus Stops

We knew we loved Alison when she told us the bus stop is an opportunity for passersby or people that live nearby to see map and schedule information at the stop and then they may be more inclined to use the service if they need it. As we’ve railed about the lack of bus stop information in the past (The Sorry State of Key West Bus Stops – We Just Don’t Care; April 2, 2021), this action gives us hope. All 62 Lower Keys Shuttle bus stops will get map and schedule information installed on the pole or shelter. AND 20 of the highest priority stops on the Duval Loop and North and South Lines (some of which also share poles with LKS) will also get map and schedule information. 

Trash and Recycle Bins at Every Lower Keys Shuttle Stop

Many of the bus stops along the Lower Keys Shuttle route already have trash and recycle bins. Those that don’t will be slated to get them. Not surprising that the Sustainability Coordinator would think to do this too.

16 Public Bicycle Fix-It Stations

Nothing is more frustrating to a bicyclist than a flat tire, loose gears or basket that is falling off. While Key West and Stock Island have lots of wonderful bike shops, that isn’t necessarily so for the entire Lower Keys. So having a convenient place to fix one’s bicycle helps keep people going. A fix-it station includes all the tools necessary to perform basic bike repairs and maintenance, from changing a flat to adjusting brakes, bells, and accessories. The tools are securely attached to the stand with stainless steel cables and tamper-proof fasteners.

Alison explains that Fix-It Stations will go into public areas near bus stops but not directly on U.S. 1 for safety reasons. 16 of them will be installed. The locations include four in Key West at the GATO Building, Kennedy Ball Field and two fire stations, three on Stock Island, one each at the Big Coppitt and Sugarloaf Fire Houses, one at Big Pine Key Park, one at the 7-Mile Bridge parking area and another five in Marathon. 

Regional Park-N-Ride Hubs

Some places in the Lower Keys have nearby commercial parking adjacent to the Lower Keys Shuttle bus stops. These areas can be convenient hubs for people to drive a short distance from their home, park and hop on the bus for the long trip into town. As part of this project Ms. Higgins anticipates providing five Regional Park-N-Ride Hubs at locations such as the Big Pine CVS, the Tiki Bar on Ramrod Key and Baby’s Coffee. They’ll work with the businesses to make this a win win. These bus stops will include the map and schedule information, trash and recycle cans, bike racks and lockers, AND the ability to access the bus stop by car. 

Let’s Double Down on This Excellent Project and Add More Service to the Lower Keys Shuttle Too

With U.S. Route 1 being the only road into and out of the Keys it is in everyone’s interest that this road does not get too clogged up with traffic. For business and logistics reasons, for safety reasons and for our environment. So, investing in moving people more efficiently along the Overseas Highway should be an imperative of both the City and County. This project fits the bill by making it easier and more convenient to get to the bus stop. Kudos to the City’s Sustainability Coordinator and Transit folks for pulling this off. Especially as the state is footing 95% of the cost. But we need to double down on making it easy for people to choose to use the Lower Keys Shuttle by further investing in additional frequency. There are only 10 trips in and 10 trips out a day, or about every two hours. Imagine if that service between Marathon and downtown Key West was every 30 minutes. We might really help some people get out of their cars and make a dent in traffic. 

# # #

You can find all the KONK Life Streets for People column articles here.

Chris Hamilton
Chris Hamilton

A native of the District of Columbia, where for a couple decades+ he led the nationally renown Commuter Services unit for Arlington County, VA’s DOT, Chris has lived in Key West since 2015. He lives downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

Streets for People / It’s Time to Put an Hourly Limit on the Free On-Street Parking Spaces and Institute a Zone System for Residential Parking Permits Downtown

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written for and published by KONK Life newspaper on August 13, 2021 and is reprinted here with permission.

Everyone complains about downtown parking. Leaders are reluctant to try anything new because someone’s bound to get upset. Nothing gets done. The problem persists. And the cycle repeats year after year. It’s time to interrupt the cycle and do something. By addressing downtown’s abundance of free and nearly free on-street parking we can relieve residents’ frustration with not finding parking in front of their own home, provide opportunities for short-term parking that increases business for our mom-and-pop retail shops and help residents who don’t live downtown to find parking space too. Win. Win. Win.

Residents Say Parking and Traffic Congestion Need to Be Fixed

Out of 18 rated City services traffic flow and parking came in ranked at 16 and 17 respectively according to a January 2021 Key West Community Survey. Said another way, of City Services that need improvement #1 is Affordable Housing, #2 is Parking and #3 is Traffic Flow.

The problem is that people have a hard time coming to a consensus on defining what the parking problem is. One person’s definition of the problem is not nearly the same as another. It depends on where one lives, where one works and how often one frequents downtown venues. And still the “problem” may change from block to block, depending upon who you talk to. 

City’s Strategic Plan is a Half-Hearted Attempt to Address the Issue

The draft Key West Forward Strategic Plan Traffic and Pedestrian Friendliness element that’s expected to be adopted in the coming month or so cited the survey results in crafting these goals for the next couple of years:

Goal 1: Ensure safer and more accessible bicycle and pedestrian routes
Goal 2: Improve public transit
Goal 3: Parking improvements
Goal 4: Reduce the island’s carbon footprint

With regards to Goal 3, Parking Improvements, the goal is to “Make parking easier and more accessible for drivers.” The Plan proposes doing so with the following actions:

  1. Explore opportunities for a parking garage on Stock Island, rooftop parking additions to existing City lots and one-waying some streets
  2. Produce and promote an app that shows parking garage availability
  3. Increase the usability of pay by phone for parking
  4. Pilot reverse angle parking on a street as a model for more

All of these are worthy actions and should be pursued. But they seem to have been developed with political palatability in mind. No one will object to anything here. And while numbers two and three may make parking easier, we’re not sure they address the real problem that we badly manage and underprice our limited supply of on-street parking and that contributes to traffic and parking congestion.

Let’s Reset the Problem. There’s Lots of Parking. We Just Underprice It and Manage It Badly.

There might be as many as 10,000 parking spaces downtown. There are a few thousand private parking spaces in driveways, retail, and lodging lots. On top of that there’s another 2,000 to 3,000 publicly available for pay parking spaces in private and public lots and garages across our downtown. There are another 3,000 known on-street parking spaces in the downtown core. About 1/3 of these spaces are metered, 1/3 are marked Residential Permit Only and 1/3 are unmarked. And there may be 1,000+ on-street spaces uncounted because they are on Old Town blocks (mostly South of Truman and around the Casa) that don’t have a curb and so aren’t counted. 

Residential Permits can be had for $20 annually or $0.05 cents per day. They may go up to $35 next year or 9 ½ cents a day. The unmarked spaces are FREE and available for free for up to 72 hours at a time. That means two thirds of known downtown is covered in free or nearly free on-street parking. And THAT’S THE REAL PROBLEM because everyone is fighting over those free and virtually free spaces.

When a city undervalues parking by providing free and nearly free parking, many people think like George Costanza and always believe if they just try hard enough, they’ll find a spot. In one of the most popular Seinfeld episodes of all time – “The Parking Space” – Elaine tells George to just put the car in a garage because he’s never going to find a free on-street parking space. But George, like most Americans, is loath to pay for parking and keeps hunting. And that’s the dilemma.

If people, whether they are visiting for a few days, parking for a work shift, or coming downtown for dinner, know there are free or nearly free parking spaces out there, no matter how rare they are during busy season, they are going to circle the block and go round and round till they find one rather than pay to put it in a longer-term lot or garage. THAT’s THE REAL PROBLEM.

Two Good Ideas Already in the Works Via the Budget Process

To its credit, the Parking Department is working on two reforms that will help battle the real problem:

Raise the Price on Metered Parking and Add to the Supply

To encourage turnover for retail at meters we need to encourage people to park in long-term lots and garages. But to do this, metered rates need to be more expensive than surrounding lots and garages. Otherwise, people will use the meters first. City staff has proposed an increase from $4 to $5 and from $5 to $6 an hour at metered spaces. Good start. Even better the Parking Department is proposing to add meters on the 500, 600, 700, 800 and 900 blocks of Whitehead and 200 block of Elisabeth Streets. Let’s make sure this happens.

Raise the Price of Residential Parking Permits

As the number of spaces allocated to this program downtown is scarce (there’s a little more than 1,000 spaces), the price should take this into account. $20 for an annual permit comes to 5 cents a day. The proposed increase to $35 is welcome but at 9 ½ cents a day is still nearly free. Permits for such a scare resource, taxpayer or not, should be well over $100 for the first vehicle and progressively more for subsequent vehicles. The $35 is a good first step. 

Here’s What Else We Need to Do

So, in addition to the items in the Strategic Plan and what this City is already working on above, to make it easier to park, to discourage cruising for free or nearly free on-street parking, to encourage turnover for retail and to encourage visitors and workers to park in long-term lots here’s three things we need to do:

1 – Institute a Zone System for Residential Parking Permits

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 sparking 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.” Kinda fits Key West’s historic downtown, eh?

In Key West there’s only one zone. It covers the entire City including Stock Island. Anyone can purchase this pass, allowing folks to drive downtown and use one of those 1,000 on-street Residential Permit Parking spaces for less than 10 cents a day. People living north of White Street don’t purchase passes to park in front of their home. They purchase passes to park downtown for nearly free or at one of the many 4-hour resident free lots or beaches.

The people who live in the core in Bahama Village, the Seaport, around the Cemetery or other places downtown 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. With more than 10 permits for every one space no wonder everyone is frustrated.

We often hear the old canard 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 Elizabeth, Emma or William Streets would they really say the same thing?

How many zones are needed? That’s a good question. We have three Commission Member Districts and six Voting Precincts downtown. Perhaps these boundaries could be used to create three or six zones downtown and one big one for the rest of the city. Maybe we need more zones? Maybe less. However, you slice it, having multiple zones is better than having one.

The Residential Parking Permits would still get you 4-hours free at the beaches and select lots and garages all over downtown, but people who don’t live nearby would no longer compete with people who live on a block. 

2 – Put Hourly Limits on the 1,000 Unmarked Spaces Downtown

There are about 1,000 known unmarked, free spaces downtown. (Remember there’s also an additional 1,000+ unmarked spaces on curbless streets too.) One can park in these spaces for up to 3 days or 72 hours before having to move a vehicle. THESE are the parking spots that the George Costanza’s among us, whether they be overnight or day visitors or uptowners and non-islanders without Residential Permit Parking passes, are look for. Limit the parking in these spaces to a certain number of hours, say 4 to 6 hours between the hours of 8 am and midnight. This encourages people who are visiting to use the long-term lots. We might also consider turning more of these spaces over to Residential Parking Permit and metered parking spaces as needed.

3 – Allow Use of Hourly-Limited Unmarked Spaces for People with Residential Parking Permits

Allow anyone with a Residential Parking Permit for any zone to use the Hourly-Limited Unmarked Spaces for up to 72 hours as use to be the case for anyone. For people that live uptown and could no longer park in a downtown Residential Zone that wasn’t theirs, these spots would now be available. for their use. And more of these spots would be available, because the new 4–6-hour limits would push visitors to the long-terms lots and garages.

All Residents Get Something and Downtown Becomes Less Congested

By doing these three things, downtown residents win by having zoned parking ensuring parking near their home. Uptown residents win by having use of the newly freed up unmarked spaces and still have all the benefits of Residential Parking Permits such as four hours free parking at the beaches and city lots too.

And because visitors don’t have the expectation of free 72-hour parking in the middle of downtown and because we’ve raised the metered parking rates, they now park where they are supposed to – in the long-term lots and garages. This helps with turnover at the meters and thus helps our small mom-and-pop shops and it helps reduce traffic congestion all over downtown. 

Everybody wins.

But for this to occur, we need a City Commission brave, bold and progressive enough to make it happen. Here’s wishing them courage.

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You can find all the KONK Life Streets for People column articles here

Chris Hamilton
Chris Hamilton

A native of the District of Columbia, where for a couple decades+ he led the nationally renown Commuter Services unit for Arlington County, VA’s DOT, Chris has lived in Key West since 2015. He lives downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

Streets for People / We Need to Encourage Efforts Like the Proposed Lama Electric Scooter

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written for and published by KONK Life newspaper on August 6, 2021 and is reprinted here with permission.

Local entrepreneur Marc Meisel, who owns the H2O Suites, Santa Maria Suites and the Southwinds Hotel has started a unique electric scooter company called Lama Mobility that will whisk his guests around town in an eco-friendly e-scooter to shop, dine and visit attractions without need of a personal or rental car, Uber, gas-powered golf cart or whinny gas-powered scooter. As the City has a temporary moratorium on new rental vehicles, he’s asked for a one-year pilot project to test the new venture at his three hotel properties using 48 Lama e-scooters. THIS is something the Commission should enthusiastically support.

Marc Meisel presents Lama Electric Scooter pilot project to City Commission on July 20, 2021.

Commissioner Hoover Again on the Forefront of Change

Commissioner Mary Lou Hoover sponsored Mr. Meisel’s presentation (video here) and proposal (PDF of the PowerPoint here) at the July 20, 2021, meeting. Commissioner Hoover has been at the forefront of progressive alternative transportation as she’s recently spearheaded putting bike lanes on S. Roosevelt Boulevard and has worked tirelessly with Mayor Johnston and Commissioner Kaufman on the long process of reforming the City’s E-Vehicles Ordinance to provide more safety for people on sidewalks. 

In introducing Mr. Meisel, Commissioner Hoover noted she’s been approached by other vendors who had dockless scooters that traditionally operate with the pickup and drop off transaction conducted via an app on the street. She noted the City wouldn’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 carshare.  

Roundtrip E-Scooter Rental Gets Around City Right-of-Way Issue

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. Key West doesn’t allow these kinds of operations. 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. 

How the Lama Electric Scooter Program Works

Mr. Meisel said that: 

  • Scooters are parked and charged at Lama charging racks located at hotels or other private properties. For the pilot, Mr. Meisel is proposing to put the charging racks holding the 48 scooters at his three hotels. 
  • Riders utilize the Lama app to rent the scooters and are charged by the hour for use.
  • 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. And we love that the same cord that charges the vehicle also acts as a locking mechanism. 

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

A Safe, Eco-Friendly and Quiet Alternative to Get Around

In introducing the concept, Mr. Meisel said that his hotels on the Upper end of the Duval area are a long way from many Key West attractions, citing Fort Zach as 1.4 miles away, Mallory Square as 1.3 miles and the Key West Seaport as 1.2 miles away. When faced with having to walk this far he said many of his customers opt for driving personal or rental vehicles or take Uber and Lyft. His electric scooters would offer an “efficient alternative that reduces gas-powered automobiles on the roads, parking problems, and sidewalk congestion all while not disturbing the atmosphere or Key West citizens with the noise or pollution from gas-powered engines.” We like that! He also showed a slide indicating national data that nearly 50% of e-scooter users switched from a motor vehicle. We like that too.

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. All users must be 18 years of age.

In addressing the concern about sidewalk riding, Mr. Meisel said that in Portland, Oregon, on streets where speed limits were less than 35 mph, which is most of Key West he added, 92% of trips were taken on the street. As part of the safety education and rules of the road on the app and at the station, he said they’d stress that they didn’t want people riding on the sidewalk. He also said that data shows that it takes just a minute to get comfortable in using the scooter and that research shows the electric scooters are no more dangerous than other forms of transportation. 

He also mentioned a cool geo-fencing feature that would allow the City to ask Lama to say, restrict the maximum 15 mph speed of the vehicles in certain zones. For example, he said if you 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.  

Electric Scooters and Other Alternatives are Good for Downtown

We’ve often brought our readers research that says people on foot and bicycles are better for downtown business than people in cars. Mr. Meisel citied similar research that shows the same for people who use e-scooters saying that e-scooters help tourists visit more sites and spend more money.

Getting people out of cars and into quiet, eco-friendly alternatives like the Lama e-scooters is a good thing. It nicely compliments efforts like the Duval Loop. It makes our downtown a more friendly, green, and prosperous place. So why does Mr. Meisel have to beg for a pilot project. This needs to get done and going!

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 transit? 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? All these things, including e-scooters, would make Duval Street & Historic Downtown healthy, green, sustainable, equitable, prosperous, affordable, and happier too.

# # #

You can find all the KONK Life Streets for People column articles here

Chris Hamilton
Chris Hamilton

A native of the District of Columbia, where for a couple decades+ he led the nationally renown Commuter Services unit for Arlington County, VA’s DOT, Chris has lived in Key West since 2015. He lives downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

Streets for People / Uber-Like Transit Coming to Key West?

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written for and published by KONK Life newspaper on July 30, 2021 and is reprinted here with permission.

Proposed Switch to On-Demand Transit Service Relieves City Leaders from Having to Make the Hard Decisions to Invest More in Public Transit. For Now.

At the July 22 City Commission Budget Workshop, Key West Transit proposed doing away with its North and South Lines and evening Duval Loop route and replacing them with a fully “on-demand macroransit” service. The Lower Keys Shuttle and daytime Duval Loop fixed routes would remain the same. They likened the new service to Uber, where one would use a smartphone app to request a trip. Rather than door to door service, the buses would pick up and drop off customers at bus stops. Finance and transit staff said the new system would be more reliable, provide customers with greater frequency and could be done for the same cost, or less, as the existing system. Officials are expected to decide on whether to give a green light to the pilot in the coming months as part of the budget process.

As we gather more information and get a chance to talk to transit staff and City leaders, we plan on bringing you more in-depth information. Today we’ll explore what we do know, try to explain how we got here and show how the new system might work.

80, 80, 95, 80, 90, 80, 80, 80, 95, 80 or How We Got Here

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

Key West Transit’s 10-Year Transit Development Plan or TDP, adopted in late 2019, recognized the then problem of circuitous routes and infrequent service. The TDP set out a plan to simplify the routes using a series of frequent (every 15-minutes) Duval Loop-like “Loop” services on Key West and Stock Island joined together by frequent (also every 15-minutes) “Connector” lines. Key West Transit started the simplification when it came back from the COVID-19 shutdown in May 2020 by eliminating the Red, Orange, Blue and Green City routes and replacing them with two simpler North and South Lines. While they did indeed simplify things by going from four routes that were hard to understand to two simpler ones, they didn’t address frequency, as waits were still 80-95 minutes between buses.

Citing this abysmal frequency, this past winter, the City’s Sustainability Advisory Board called for Free, Frequent and Simple bus routes and challenged the Commission to spend the money to attract enough bus drivers to provide greater frequency. They proposed an increase in parking fees to make it happen.

Are We Willing to Spend the Money for Improved Transit?

After months of internal planning by transit staff, the Transportation Coordination Team (TCT) – made up of various departments, Strategic Planning Consultant Elisa Levy and some community leaders, a Traffic and Pedestrian Friendliness element of the Key West Forward Strategic Plan was released in June. The document cited the January 2021 Community Survey which revealed downtown traffic and parking congestion as a major issue and said the solution to the problem was improving our transit system because we already have good bike and walk numbers. The plan used this as the impetus for saying we need to pay more to attract bus drivers and boldly called for a reduction in the 80-95 minutes North and South Line frequency down to 30 minutes next fiscal year that begins October 1, 2021, with hopes for eventually getting it down to 15 minutes.

At the hearing for the Traffic and Pedestrian Friendliness element on June 15 Commissioner Sam Kaufman asked: “How many years have we been talking about adding bus frequency? Do we even have the capacity for this?” Mayor Johnston bravely answered with a call to arms, saying: “The answer is us (referring to herself and the Commissioners on the dais). Are we willing to spend the money that gets us there? The limiting factor is us and what we’re willing to commit to.”

Computer Says No

Apparently, the computer says no. When Finance Director Mark Finigan and Transportation Director Rod Delostrinos presented the On-Demand Macrotransit idea they said they could do the pilot project “without considerable impact to the budget despite staffing issues.” Mr. Finigan added the City has a sufficient level of funding for the Local Routes and Lower Keys Shuttle and Duval Loop as currently configured or the pilot program. But “the way we’re heading in the matter of delivering service, we will have to make significant contributions to transit for local routes and the Loop.” In other words, they presented a budget for the next year that got us either the same exact awful service we have now, or you could try the pilot project, but if you want to get more frequent service on the existing system, we’ll have to start using tax dollars.

The Transit budget is made up of three main revenue sources. FDOT and Federal transit dollars make up 54%, Parking Garage Revenue (the garage was built with Federal and State Transit grants, so the revenue goes back to the transit system) funds 29% and the Transportation Alternatives Fund, established in 2016 with a portion of a surcharge on parking meter rates, makes up 16%, with 1% miscellaneous other funds. No City General Funds are used. THAT’S what the Finance Director was telling folks. If you want more frequency you’re going to need to dip into other sources like the General Fund. We happen to like the SAB’s idea for using increased parking fees to add frequency but that’s fodder for another story. The proposed budget presented is $4.8 million. The last year for which they have actual expenditures is the 2019/20 fiscal year in which Transit spent $4.6 million. 

The Finance and Transportation Directors didn’t even put together for the Commission’s consideration a strawman budget that would have gotten those promised 30-minute frequencies in the Strategic Plan. To use another football analogy, they simply punted. Now no one has to make any hard spending decisions.

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade

Faced with years of recalcitrance from management and leaders who don’t want to spend money on transit and from a personnel system that won’t let him pay enough to attract adequate numbers of bus drivers needed for more frequent service, it seems Key West Transit Director of Transportation Rod Delestrinos has come up with an out-of-the box idea that tries to make lemonade out of lemons. Good for him.

Said Mr. Delestrinos, if we can’t reach our target goal (greater frequency via more drivers) than he recommends we change the manner in which we deliver service. He went on to explain the On-Demand Macrotransit Pilot Project saying they could deliver the service with the buses and drivers they already have. 

Uber Transit

As we said at the beginning, the On-Demand Transit Pilot Project would eliminate the North and South lines and the evening Duval Loop service. The same buses (thus the term macrotransit as opposed to microtransit – vans) taken off those services would then be available to take trips within Key West and presumably Stock Island as people booked them on a smartphone app or their computer or in limited cases via a regular phone line. Persons could also schedule trips in advance and book regularly recurring trips, like ones to and from work. One would select the nearest bus stop to their present location and the nearest bus stop to their destination. And viola’ the software behind the scenes figures it all out and tells you when the bus will arrive at your selected stop. You can even track its progress in getting to you. The fare would be the same as for the North and South Lines or $2.00 per ride. 

Mr. Delostrinos believes the efficiencies inherent in the system, responding to demand rather than the need to put a bus out on a schedule, means they may be able to use less buses and thus expand the span of service until 3:00 am, allowing for late shift workers to use the service. He added that this service is more responsive to workers and the community. 

Technology over the last decade has certainly revolutionized how we get around our cities. Uber and Lyft couldn’t exist without high-tech software that enables drivers and users to connect. There are stand-alone on-demand microtransit services like Bridj and Chariot and many fixed route transit systems use microtransit to supplement services using Uber like routing systems with small vans. Paratransit, like Monroe County Transit (MCT) uses tech to schedule door-to-door service, with trips scheduled 24-hours in advance for people whose physical limitations prevent them from getting to a bus stop or using a regular bus. And many cities have bike and scooter share services that use technology to get people around.

Given the Situation, Let’s Give Key West Transit Room to Experiment 

Many transit systems across North America use on-demand service like taxis, Ubers, Lyfts and microtransit as supplements to the fixed route service with first and last mile connections or are designed to fill in the gaps or extend the service area into less dense suburbs. Many rural communities use on-demand micro and macro transit because they just don’t have the densities for fixed-route service. So, this isn’t that new of a concept. However, for a denser urban area like Key West to experiment with going to a mostly on-demand system using existing buses, that is quite different. 

The Pilot Project’s plan is to keep the Duval Loop fixed-route service downtown during the day. And to keep the successful Lower Keys Shuttle service too. Those are good ideas. Our preference is that our leaders would commit to the already adopted 10-Year Plan that calls for fixed Loop and Connector routes with 15-minute frequency. That’s real transit. 

But since no one wants to spend the money creating Duval Loop like service for the rest of the island, we really have no choice but to give this pilot project a try. Otherwise, we’ve only been offered the same stinky service on the streets today that no one rides. And who knows, so many people may use the new on-demand service, that we’ll need to get more vehicles and drivers to keep up with demand. And our leaders, who thought they were kicking the can down the road by doing this pilot, will instead need to face the fact that we really must spend more money on public transit if we want to move more people around without cars. So, here’s wishing Rod and his team success.

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You can find all the KONK Life Streets for People column articles here and recent stories below:

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

Streets for People / Our Top 7 Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People Articles of 2021

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written for and published by KONK Life newspaper on July 24, 2021 and is reprinted here with permission. (Featured picture by Britt Myers, Keys Weekly);

With this our twenty-sixth Streets for People column for KONK Life newspapers, we’ve reached the halfway point of the year. A good point for a little reflection on what stories resonate with our audience. According to our analytics, seven articles stood out from the pack in terms of popularity. We can’t say that there’s a certain theme or rhyme or reason to the top seven except that bike, walk, transit, parking, and streets for people focused items all made the most widely read list. So, in case you are new to our column or missed these, here’s the top seven most popular articles in ascending order:

#7: The Sorry State of Key West Bus Stops – We Just Don’t Care; April 2, 2020

On our Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown Facebook page and similarly named blog we like to say about our mission:

“We can learn from others and hope to share best practices of making this happen from around the world. We want to shine a light on positive local efforts and call out areas where we need to improve. We want to make our little island paradise better.”

Perhaps no story was as hard to write as this one because of the City’s utter failure at providing such a basic service. This indeed was one area that needed to be called out for improvement. From the article:

“Experts say, the bus stop is one of the biggest signals to everyone in the city, about a community’s attitude toward buses and their customers. What do Key West Transit bus stops say to residents, workers and visitors? Judging by the quality and lack of information one would have to answer: “We just don’t care!”

We went on to share many examples of the lack of any information on any bus stop poles for which bus comes by the stop, where its going and when it will come by. We provided some simple solutions too. The good news is that the City has recently committed to “create better signage and clearer maps at bus stops” in its Traffic and Pedestrian Friendliness element of the Key West Forward Strategic Plan.

#6: Getting the Parking Right Leads to Streets for People – Part 2: Battling Our Inner George Costanza – Ten Things We Can Do in Downtown Key West to Get the Parking Right; March 19, 2021

When nine out of ten of us on the island own a vehicle and 55% of households own two or more vehicles and traffic congestion and parking continues to be a top issue, it shouldn’t be surprising that stories about parking reform evince strong reactions from our readers. In this two-part series we discussed six reasons why right-pricing parking and not providing free or nearly free parking fights congestion and is good for downtown business and residents. Part two begins with:

“When a city undervalues parking by providing free, nearly free and underpriced metered parking, many people think like George Costanza and always believe if they just try hard enough, they’ll find a spot. In one of the most popular episodes – the 39th called “The Parking Space,” – Elaine tells George to just put the car in a garage because he’s never going to find a free parking space. But George, like most Americans, is loath to pay for parking. And that’s the dilemma. If people, whether they are visiting for a few days, parking for a work shift, or coming downtown for dinner, know there are free parking spaces out there, no matter how rare they are, they are going to circle the block and go-round and round until they find one rather than put it in a longer-term lot. That just leads to more congestion on our streets.” 

With that we went on to describe 10 often discussed ideas that would help alleviate congestion, provide turnover for retail, and give some relief to downtown residents who can’t find parking on their own blocks. We hope the 10 ideas can be a starting point for thoughtful discussion in the future.

#5: The Wee Donkey, Whataboutism, Bathwater and Duval Street’s Future; February 19, 2921

This was perhaps our favorite title for an article. It all started with the February 12 Keys Weekly story by Mandy Miles about the Duval Street Revitalization Plan project that was about to begin. It featured a picture from the consultant that depicts an artist’s rendering of a potential future Duval Street, plucked from many such graphics, from the company’s original submission to the RFQ. All hell seemed to break out on various Facebook sites in reaction to the rendering. This is what we said at the time:

“…These were the most common and charitable comments. But the kicker was this from friend and local Key West Island News publisher Linda Grist Cunningham: “Mary, Joseph and the Wee Donkey! That is one horrific “rendering.” Linda went on to say: “If that’s what’s in their imagination, if they think it’s OK to use a conceptual drawing that has no charm, no connection to the island, Key West’s mystique is gone.” And you know what? Linda and all similar comments are exactly right. We want Key West, Duval Street, and our little historic downtown to be what they are – Key West! Not someplace else.”

We went on to discuss the cacophony of Whataboutism that ensued and that we shouldn’t throw the baby (Duval Street Revitalization) out with the bathwater. We reiterated that the team of two firms selected for the project were first rate and that we should move on from the rendering and get the project going. 

#4: With the Duval Street Revitalization Plan Way Behind Schedule, Here’s 3 Quick Wins for Pedestrianizing Duval Street Now; July 16, 2021

Unfortunately, the debacle of the Wee Donkey Rendering in our #5 story led City staff to drop the consultant contract entirely and delay the project by attempting to write an entirely new RFQ that still hasn’t been released. So, our July 16 story five months later, is an ode to the frustration of watching a promising project, one Mayor Johnston has championed for years, fall into a bureaucratic black hole. 

“…Someone inside City Hall decided they wanted a new firm. Rather than simply go to the second ranked firm, which was also excellent and lost the contract by just a few points, decided they needed to rewrite and put out an entirely new RFQ. So, twenty months after the first RFQ had gone out and one year after a winning firm was selected, we’re stilling waiting for the next RFQ. Once released, if the new RFQ process takes a year, like the first one did, we won’t have a consultant on board till the fall of 2022. If we’re lucky. And then the Study could take one or more years to complete, and we’ll be into 2023 or later. We’re mighty disappointed in City staff botching the Mayor’s signature wish for a Duval Revitalization Plan. So THAT’S WHY we’re advocating to get some quick wins now.”


We went on to describe 3 things we can do this summer and fall to start pedestrianizing downtown in the interim before the very delayed Plan process begins. It doesn’t surprise us that this story is less than a week old and is already up to #4 in our popularity rankings because the recent Key West Community Survey shows 2/3’s of us are in favor of closing Duval Street in the evenings or weekends for pedestrian traffic and that its revitalization is one of our top rated projects.

#3: Limiting Large Cruise Ships Gives Us an Opportunity to Make Duval Street & Historic Downtown More Locals Focused, Again; July 9, 2021

It’s not shocking that this story makes the top 3 for the year because some of our most read stories of 2020 were on the same subject. We wrote this story in advance of last week’s big meeting at City Hall. We were happy to see Mayor Johnston and the City Commission so forcefully back the will of the people and give direction to the City Manager and City Attorney to make the intent of the referenda stick. From the article:

“As the pandemic unfolded last year and the wonderfully thoughtful Reimagining Key West Facebook group sprang to life, helping to cheer on Safer, Cleaner Ships, we heard countless stories about a bygone Key West that was simpler, less crowded and more about our residents. And how that attracted amazing long-term visitors who appreciated being among the locals.”

We discussed how banning large cruise ships enables Duval Street and Historic Downtown to become an authentic, real, and local focused downtown. Again. We used lots of good quotes from others who knew Key West before cruise ships and watched it change. We also discussed the importance of the Duval Street Revitalization Plan as a follow up to the cruise ship restrictions, in insuring a more locals focused downtown. Thus, our continuing frustration with City staff delaying this important Plan.

#2: It’s Time to Reconsider a Road Diet on S. Roosevelt Boulevard and Make the Promenade and Road Safer; March 26, 2021

It may be that this story is one of the more impactful stories we’ve done. It was hugely popular and shared widely on social media. It’s about FDOT’s rebuilding of a one mile stretch of S. Roosevelt Boulevard between Bertha Street and the end of Smathers Beach up by the airport. In 2017 the then City Commission voted against FDOT, the City Engineer and citizen recommendations to make the road safer for bikes and pedestrians and instead decided that when the road was rebuilt to mitigate flooding that the current 4-lane roadway be put back. The article posited that since the project was delayed and because we were mostly talking about road surface changes that could be accomplished with paint and plants, that maybe the City and FDOT could revisit the issue since we had a new more progressive City Commission.

A month after the article was published at the May 4 City Commission Meeting, Commissioner Mary Lou Hoover sponsored a resolution rescinding the 2017 decision to keep the road at 4 through travel lanes and instead recommended 3 lanes, including a middle turn lane and bike lanes. The resolution passed 6-1 with the Commission giving City Engineering Department direction to make the road safer for cars, bikes and pedestrians with a new design. 

The catch was the resolution passed with the caveat that this be done as long as it doesn’t interfere with the timeline or budget. Unfortunately, this seemed to give staff an excuse to fail as they are up against a timeline to get all the changes done by fall with no additional costs. An unlikely scenario that we wrote about in this article: City Commission Tries to Have Its Cake and Eat It Too on S. Roosevelt Blvd. – Perhaps Dooming a Safer Project; May 7, 2021.

#1: What’s Old is New Again – Two New Bike Trails Take Us Back in Time to a Simpler Key West; April 30, 2021

This story has by far been the most popular of the year. We think it’s because of the combination of nostalgia for a time when Key West was simpler and because the two projects provide hope that our future for biking on the island can be better.

The story describes how Multi-Modal Planning Coordinator Tim Staub said two new bike trails that were highly recommended in the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan are slated to begin their planning phase in the next year. 

“The Salt Ponds Trails would connect the communities of Ocean Walk, Las Salinas and Seaside, where a lot of the City’s workforce lives, with downtown via a time-saving and safer bike trail. This new facility would cut behind the backside of the Key West International Airport, with the ideal design being a wide boardwalk or something with limited disturbances of nature.” 

The Smathers Beach Trail will allow the High School students to have short-cut that doesn’t involve Flagler and Bertha to get to the beach by cutting behind the area on Government Road where the Cuban plane currently sits and connecting to the bridal path alongside the Seaside Condominium via a boardwalk bridge.

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

In both cases, Tom “the Bike Man” Theisen provided recollections of people using both trails for recreation in days gone by before the City either erected fences or dug ditches that filled in with water to prevent their use. Now all these years later the City is going to resurrect their use to make better connections and make biking easier and safer. And that’s a wonderful thing.

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You can find all the KONK Life Streets for People column articles here and recent stories below:

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

Streets for People / With the Duval Street Revitalization Plan Way Behind Schedule, Here’s 3 Quick Wins for Pedestrianizing Duval Street Now

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written for and published by KONK Life newspaper on July 16, 2021 and is reprinted here with permission.

While last season doesn’t exactly seem to have ended, we have another season rolling around soon. Christmas is in 5 months, and the madness begins anew. Since the Duval Street Revitalization Plan has been delayed, let’s do some quick and relatively easy things now to get our Duval Street and Historic Downtown more pedestrian friendly by then. The recent Key West Community Survey of 3,700 residents showed “2/3’s of us are in favor of closing Duval Street for pedestrian traffic on evenings and/or weekends” and that “revitalization of Duval Street” is one of our top rated capital projects. We need to commit some money and staff time this summer during the budget process, get projects done in the fall and be ready for another season with some fresh pedestrian-friendly ventures.

The Duval Street Revitalization Plan Has Fallen into a Bureaucratic Black Hole 

Mayor Johnston ran on a platform of revitalizing Duval Street in 2018. She came through by initiating the Mall on Duval pilot project in 2019 and that begat the release of a Duval Street Revitalization Plan RFQ on November 21, 2019 (RFQ). After an arduous and long process an amazing consultant team was selected at the August 19, 2020 City Commission meeting, a contract signed in November 2020 and a phase one budget and scope was in the works last winter. All was set for public meetings and a project start this past spring. And then the wheels came off. 

One of project leads had quit the main firm. At the same time a local paper printed an “artist’s rendering” included in the consultant’s original submission depicting Duval Street as well, not very Duval Street like. There was such a hue and cry over the rendering and apoplexy over the loss of one person from the consultant team, that apparently city staff wanted to cut and run and change firms entirely. As we discussed in a previous article (The Wee Donkey, Whataboutism, Bathwater and Duval Street’s Future; February 19, 2020) it was an early rendering and meant nothing. And the two firms that partnered together to win the contract had such stellar reputations, that the loss of the project lead could have been overcome. But someone inside City Hall decided that they wanted a new firm. And rather than simply go to the second ranked firm, which was also excellent and lost the contract by just a few points, decided they needed to rewrite and put out an entirely brand new RFQ. So, twenty months after the first RFQ had gone out and one year after a winning firm was selected, we’re still waiting for the next RFQ. As of this publication it still hasn’t been released. Staff doesn’t seem to be helping the Mayor out on this one, do they?

Once released, if the new RFQ process takes a year, like the first one did, we won’t have a consultant on board till the fall of 2022. If we’re lucky. And then the Study could take one or more years to complete, and we’ll be into 2023 or later. We’re mighty disappointed in City staff botching the Mayor’s signature wish for a Duval Revitalization Plan. So THAT’S WHY we’re advocating to get some quick wins now. 

#1: Widen the Sidewalks by Installing Parklets

Parklets are spots for people. Not cars. Parklets are an extension of the sidewalk out into the street, usually in what was formerly a parking space, thus the name. Parklets are typically applied where there are narrow or congested sidewalks like in our downtown. They are intended to be used for people, usually to sit, either as an open public park or as part of a nearby private retail or restaurant space. 

By moving some activity, whether it be sitting benches, space for street merchants and entertainers, or café tables, off the sidewalk, it widens the pedestrian zone allowing more room for people to walk two abreast, to window shop and very importantly helps people with mobility and ADA issues. 

Parklets are often temporary and can be built quickly and relatively inexpensively. They are most often built on a platform so that they are level with the sidewalk. But there are plenty of examples where some planters and barricades delineate the space at street level. Installing these now wouldn’t preclude more permanent infrastructure changes in the future.  

There are places along Duval where there is currently parking (300, 800, 900 blocks) or where the sidewalk narrows for temporary parking (200, 500, 600, 700 blocks) where parklets could be installed. On Upper Duval, beyond Truman Avenue, there’s parking on both sides of the street that could be used. Parklets shouldn’t just be for Duval Street. Anywhere downtown where there is retail should be able to participate. Think the 400 and 500 blocks of Southard and Fleming. The 400 block of Eaton. Why not White Street. Where else?

The City’s Multi-Modal Transportation Coordinator drafted a Parklets Ordinance almost a year ago. It seems to have gotten lost in the black hole of bureaucracy or what’s called departmental and City Attorney review. City staff don’t do Mayor Johnston any favors by burying good ideas. Time to dig this out and pair it up with the forthcoming Café Seating Permit revisions.

Additional information on Parklets:

#2: Install Bike Corral Parking on Duval’s Cross Streets

Examples of Bicycle Corral Parking. Bottom right example includes a parklet too.

We reported a few weeks ago that local bicycle shop owners have seen an uptick in rentals and sales this year. That’s a good thing. Getting people quickly and conveniently downtown by bike is an easy way to help pedestrianize the area. Walk around downtown and one sees full bike racks and people chaining their rides to every tree, pole, and fence in sight. That’s not so good as it clogs the sidewalks. So, let’s quickly add hundreds of bicycle parking spaces downtown. But stop erecting the one-off bike racks in the sidewalk that force people to walk single file on some blocks and instead install bike corral parking in the street. Corrals are a great solution for places where demand for bicycle parking exceeds the available sidewalk space. Where possible, install these adjacent to parklets to add protection and bring the consumer right to the product.

A few years ago, the Parking Director John Wilkins told me he thought that bicycle parking should be found in large numbers, corral style, on both sides of all the streets that cross Duval from Front to South Streets. This lends itself to installing scooter parking right next to the bicycles. Simply replace the first car parking space on each of these blocks with a bicycle corral and scooter parking. The space required for one car can accommodate from 10 to 20 bicycles so the trade off should be easy. And the regularity of having this on every block makes it easy to remember where bicycle parking is. It also is better for sight lines of turning vehicles and thus minimizes crashes with pedestrians and bicycles. You can see evidence of this concept on the 500 block of Eaton Street at Duval next to St. Paul’s. Also, on Petronia at Duval across from 801 Bar and Applerouth across from Mary Ellen’s. Mr. Wilkins has a great idea. 

The City has hundreds of corral style racks in storage and plenty of money in the current and next year’s budget for more. But installation lags. Perhaps because the responsibility for bicycle racks sits with no one person or department. Community Services must find the time to install them, and the very busy Multi-Modal Transportation Coordinator Tim Staub must find the time to plan for and then request installation. This must then be approved by his superiors in Engineering before moving on to Community Services. More bureaucracy. And now Mr. Staub is leaving the City July 30 to go to grad school. The City is going to miss Tim’s good work!

Hundreds of bicycle corral style racks sit waiting to be used at Truman Waterfront Park.

Perhaps we should designate Bicycle Parking the responsibility of Parking Director John Wilkins. His department is very on the ball, and he seems to understand the necessity for convenient bike parking. And if one is the director of car parking, why not bicycle and scooter parking too? 

Additional Information on Bike Corral Parking:

#3: Get Rid of Parking and Let the People Take the Street

We’ve been talking about pedestrianizing Duval for decades. If we want sidewalk cafés, parklets, bike parking and other amenities, we need to have the guts to take some space from cars. This doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. We don’t need to block off all of Duval, perhaps a few blocks at a time. We don’t need to do it 24 hours, perhaps just at night. Maybe seven days a week. Maybe just the weekend. Maybe all year, maybe just during the season. Perhaps on some block’s cars are banned at certain times and maybe on other blocks we don’t even ban cars but just slow them down and make it so difficult that only people that really must drive on the block do so.

As a short-term temporary strategy, perhaps leading up to more permanent infrastructure solutions, in thinking about closing off a block to cars we should think about things like these:

  • What about access for 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 hotels and inns with car access off Duval?

This doesn’t have to wait a few years for the results of a Duval Street Revitalization Plan. Let’s get back to experimenting and doing pilot projects like Mall on Duval. Retailers, restauranteurs, business groups, City staff and community members can surely come up with something. Perhaps the City’s Traffic and Pedestrian Friendliness element of the Key West Forward Strategic Plan could address and codify this.

If we can address these issues AND accommodate allowing people to take the streets, vendors to hawk their wares, artists to meet people and restaurants to provide places to sit then we’ll be getting somewhere. 

Additional Information on Pedestrianizing Duval:

A Car-Centric Duval and Historic Downtown is So Mainland Florida

Key West is unique. Always has been. But shoehorning mainland-like car convenience on our mile-long Main and adjoining streets in our little historic downtown works against all the charm and eccentricity we bring to the table. Old Town is laid out more like an old European city. And yet we impose late 20th-century Orlando, Tampa and Miami-like car convenience right to our core. We need to double down on our historic, small block, grid pattern and make it more pedestrian and bike friendly. THAT’S more authentically Key West! That means less on-street car parking and less car access on those blocks. While the Duval Street Revitalization Plan will no doubt help with that, sadly it is years away from implementation. This summer and fall let’s at least do these three things to help us reclaim a little bit of downtown for people.

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You can find all the KONK Life Streets for People column articles here and recent stories below:

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