Reimagining Key West Transit

By Roger McVeigh

The pause created by the Covid Pandemic offers an opportunity for a whole new restart when Key West Transit comes back. Let’s implement changes now, rather than wait for the future.

Why?

An improved, vibrant, frequently used public transit system is vital to our community’s long-term sustainability.

This strategic community asset can be funded primarily from federal and state funding sources. Transportation funding is often dependent on increases in ridership, and a reinvented Key West public transit system will enable residents and visitors to go car-free. More riders means more outside funding which means less tax burden on the residents of Key West.

Enabling residents and visitors to go car-free leads to improvements in the quality of life of all residents, including cleaner air, less traffic congestion, and safer streets for pedestrians, bicycles and all road users.

A successful public transit system will help alleviate our workforce housing and income inequality challenges, making it easier and more feasible for our workforce, to thrive without owning a vehicle, an annual savings of $10,000 per year.

How?

A long-term recommendation from the June 2018 final report of the City Commission appointed Parking and Alternative Transportation Committee group, states: “the City Manager and Public Transit Director should evaluate and overhaul the transit system to create significant increases in ridership through an emphasis on frequency, simplicity, communications and reliability.”  Further, the report highlighted key actions needed:

  • Expanding Duval Loop to include Truman Waterfront and Higgs/White Street corridor and establishing a North Roosevelt Loop
  • Increasing frequency of Lower Keys Shuttle and consolidating local bus routes, freeing up assets to increase frequency on remaining routes, increasing ridership
  • Adding free dependable WiFi to all public transit vehicles and providing an education, rebranding, and marketing campaign

Key West Transit used these recommendations in working with a consultant to develop an ambitious and forward thinking 10-Year Transit Development Plan (TDP) that was adopted by the City Commission in November 2019.  The TDP represents the community’s visions and goals for transit in Key West and provides the strategic road map for the future of Key West Transit, achieving the goals highlighted above and then some.

Click on picture to view Report.

The TDP Executive Summary highlights the community’s desire for more frequent and simple service and proposes new local “Loop” and “Connector” routes that achieve this goal by 2021. Change the routes now, before service is restarted. We’ve already got a plan. We just need to implement it sooner.

Key capital, infrastructure, and technology improvements recommended in the TDP including establishing the Key West Intermodal Center (park and ride lot on Stock Island), purchasing smaller bus vehicles, implementing bus locator apps and mobile fare payment systems (unless going fare free), enforcing parking regulations, and expanding marketing awareness. can come later. We may want to consider proposing a quarter to half percent sales tax in Monroe County to to provide funding to repair our long-neglected roads and to upgrade our antiquated public transit system. This approach would shift the burden from local property taxes and homeowners to tourists by funding these infrastructure improvements from the spending by our 4 million annual visitors.

The Plan scraps the existing city routes and replaces them with frequent “Duval Loop-like” Loops in Midtown, New Town, Old Town and Stock Island. It also introduces fast moving “Connectors” from the Airport, New Town and a new park-n-ride facility on Stock Island.

Result

Can you imagine how many fewer cars and the reduction in traffic that would result:

  • Free and reliable transit service from Stock Island to Old Town every 15 minutes?
  • Service from the Key West International Airport to Old Town every 20 minutes?
  • 15-minute Loops downtown, Midtown, and in New Town?

Who?

Key West has a hard-working and dedicated transportation department comprising almost 40 transit professionals led by Rod Delostrinos, a military veteran with a background in logistic and a natural leader. Empower Rod and his team by giving them direction, and a modest amount of resources.

When?

NOW! What better time to act than a whole new restart of Key West Public Transit offered by the pause created by the Covid pandemic. City Management and the City Commission can undertake the improvements NOW.

About Roger McVeigh

A 15-year resident of Key West, Roger has been dedicated to public service since retiring in 2006 from a career in public accounting as a Partner with KPMG LLP in Atlanta, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida. He’s a graduate of the City of Key West Ambassador Academy (2007) and the Community Foundation of the Florida Keys Leadership Success Academy (2009). Roger is active in local government and has served as a Board Member and often Treasurer of a diverse group of nonprofit and civic organizations covering education, social services, recreation and the arts, among others. He’s currently serving on the Advisory Committee for the City of Key West Crosstown Greenway Project, the City of Key West Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and the Lower Keys Medical Center Board of Trustees.

Roger hails from Knoxville, Tennessee, attended both Emory University and Georgia State University and received his BBA in Accounting from Georgia State in 1983.Roger lives with his beautiful wife Cindy, and their two chihuahuas, Oreo and Cocoa in Old Town. He loves his adopted home of Key West, enjoys travel, hiking, supporting University of Tennessee Volunteer sports teams, and endurance sports including swim/bike/run events.


City of Key West – Let Our Restaurants Take the Streets!

Photo Credit KONK Life

With indoor seating for restaurants limited to 25% of capacity, it is time to let our struggling local restaurants take to the sidewalks and streets for customer seating. A 50 seat restaurant is now limited to 13 seats indoors. Who can survive on that? We have a huge public asset in the form of streets that we can use to help during these “strange and unusual times.”

According to the Governor’s guidelines there is no limit on outdoor seating as long as you follow the distancing rules of tables being six feet apart. Outdoor seating will allow restaurants to perhaps get a portion of their capacity back. Let the restaurants use the sidewalks and streets, FREE OF CHARGE, WITH NO PERMITS, to put out tables. While we’re at it, if retailers want to put some displays in the streets, let them. Close portions of Duval Street and the adjacent 400 and 500 blocks that have restaurants, like on Greene, Caroline, Eaton, Fleming, Southard, Petronia and perhaps more.

The Mayor and City Manager should just do this administratively. Now, as restaurants are starting to reopen.

We don’t need wasteful car storage for the privileged few to take precedence over the community’s needs. Ban cars on Duval and these blocks from 4 pm to midnight. Or limit the car-traffic to 5 MPH and one side of the street. Dare we say bring back the Mall on Duval or Duval Street Promenade?

Example of a parklet.

While we are doing this we can use the summer to plan for these same blocks to take over parking areas using parklets, so that by the fall there’s procedures for doing so.

In laying down a fee on visitors using the Duval Loop last night the Mayor reasoned “We’re in some very strange and unusual times right now. We’re going to have to make some unprecedented decisions,”  So let’s do just that and get this done now please.

NOTE THIS WAS ADDED A DAY AFTER WE POSTED THE STORY on a Hat Tip from Kathy Sage. “Restaurant owners say a new program in Tampa, allowing them to set up tables on city streets, will help them recover from the COVID-19 economic downturn.”
This is a Facebook post from friend Niall Geoghegan on Wednesday evening. We include it because it takes the idea to a whole other level and really make it “Key West Fun.”

COMMISSION: NO MORE FREE RIDE FOR YOU

Tuesday, May 5, 2020; 7:30 pm

Wardlow, Lopez, Hoover, Johnston, Davila: No more free ride for you!

With only Commissioners Kaufman and Weekley voting NO, the Key West City Commission voted 5-2 on Tuesday night to impose a $1.00 boarding fee for visitors using the City’s Duval Loop. While not in the published reports, Commissioners had been swayed by the City Manager and Transit Director (IMHO laughable) estimates that the new fee could bring in an estimated $380,000 per year – covering half the cost of running the Loop. Commissioner Weekly was able to get an amendment attached that this issue would be revisited within six months of the service’s restart. All the Commissioners expect Mr. Wardlow voted with that change. So at least we have another try in six months.

This is terribly disappointing news for all the reasons we’ve previously reported. As the Mayor and Commissioner Weekley both noted, there had never been so many people that had used the City’s online eComment to voice their opinion on an agenda item before tonight. All but one of the 28 online written comments opposed the new fare. Despite the unprecedented outpouring against the action, a 5-2 majority voted not to care what the residents thought. (Note the eComments are posted here at the end of the story.)

Both Commissioners Kaufman and Weekley were passionate in their defense of leaving it alone. Mr. Weekley cited the Loop’s success in encouraging visitors to drive less and leave coveted parking spots for locals. Mr. Kaufman also citing the Loop’s amazing success, questioned the timing, asking “What’s the urgency of making this decision now instead of during the budget process. I’d rather talk about the whole transit budget at the same time, why tonight?” In response the City Manager said:

“As you know Commissioner we started the budgetary process yesterday. You know we’re trying, there are so many unknowns in this budget process. I’m like, even this one, we can project a certain amount of money that we anticipate this generating over the rest of this fiscal year and into next fiscal year, but at this point everything’s a guess, we have no idea what sales taxes are gonna be, we have no idea how our tourism economy is going to rebound, there are, yesterday, we are cutting and we’re gonna be and I’ve never been through a budget like this and I’ve sat through a lot of budgets. We’re gonna, our number one goal is to come in as lean as we possibly can and identify as many potential revenue sources as we can. And when talking about what transit looks like going into the future, this obviously came to the forefront, and we thought we’d bring it before you, so I can’t sit here and guarantee you that its gonna generate $380,000, I can’t guarantee its gonna generate $80, its just something we’re looking at as a potential source of revenue going into this year when revenues are going to be really lean and costs are going to be even leaner.”

Huh?

Mr. Kaufman cautioned that altering the service “could have bigger consequences than we’re thinking about right now.” He also offered that if there’s a decline in ridership and the service is perceived as less successful it will make it that much harder to change other city routes in the future.

Both Commissioners Hoover and Davila seemed to only want to do this as a temporary measure in tough times to help us get by right now. Mr. Davila pointed out he thinks all the bus routes should be free. Something Commissioner Kaufman echoed.

Commissioner Lopez simply said he didn’t see anything wrong with approving it on visitors and didn’t seem as though he’d thought any of this through except that the City Manager asked for it.. The Mayor said “We’re in some very strange and unusual times right now. We’’re going to have to make some unprecedented decisions,”  and then voted for the change.

So despite the outpouring of citizen opposition and despite the fact the business and lodging community who depend on it and haven’t been around to participate in the decision, the Commission seemed to want to do something, anything, well, because “unprecedented times” and grab some revenue and perhaps seem like they are doing something. I suppose with everything going on we can expect that. But we have to hope our elected officials don’t succumb to doing things that will hurt our future in the name of expediency because of the Coronavirus. We need to be able to have our eye on the future as we deal with realities today.

By the way, we promise to come back with an article in the future showing how ludicrous that $380,000 revenue projection is. This number seemingly come via 410,000 riders and estimates that 80% of those are visitors, who will then pay $1 for the service.

Tonight’s decision is penny wise and pound foolish. So much for a more walk, bike, transit friendly downtown. At least for now….

Below are screen captures of the record number of eComments that citizens made opposing the new fare. The screen capture was taken Tuesday afternoon and the comments are no longer available on the City’s web site:

Visit this Facebook post to review citizen comments, most of which are against raising the fare.
Visit this Facebook post to review citizen comments, most of which are against raising the fare.
Visit this Facebook post to review citizen comments, most of which are against raising the fare.
Visit this Facebook post to review citizen comments, most of which are against raising the fare.

It’s Too Early! With Gwen Filosa – 5/4/20

Friends of Car-Free Key West‘s Chris Hamilton joins Key West journalist Gwen Filosa on her weekday morning show “It’s Too Early!” on Island 106.9 FM on Monday, May 4, 2020. Gwen and Chris discussed the Duval Loop bus and the City’s proposal to impose a $1.00 fee on visitors using the very successful “FREE and Frequent” downtown circulator bus. Take a listen to a very engaging 30 minutes! You can find Gwen on Facebook here.

This is a podcast of Chris and Gwen’s discussion.

Keep Duval Loop FREE For Visitors

People have until Monday afternoon, May 4, to voice their opinion on Item #7 using the City’s eComment here:  https://bit.ly/2VQmasT

Launched in August of 2017, the Duval Loop quickly became a favorite of visitors and all the lodging, attractions, restaurant and retail businesses in our downtown. The service is successful because it is FREE, FREQUENT (buses arrive every 15-20 minutes) and has a SIMPLE route that is easy to understand. Last year more than 410,000 trips were taken on the Loop. More people rode the Loop than the other four City bus routes (orange, blue, red and green) and the Lower Keys Shuttle all combined. It isn’t even 3 years old yet and is universally hailed as something the “City did right!” Now, someone wants to muck up this success by charging a $1.00 fare to visitors using the service. A formal proposal to raise the fare goes before the City Commission at its May 5 meeting, Item #7.

Not surprisingly many in the local Key West community are saying NO to the proposal as witnessed by the overwhelming comments on Facebook’s Friends of Car-Free Key West and Reimagining Key West posts. Even though the proposal would continue FREE fares for residents with an ID, folks seem to get that this is about getting visitors and workers easily around downtown and discouraging them from driving cars to do so. It works people say, so why mess with that achievement by fundamentally altering its formula?

According to the Executive Summary accompanying Item #7, the Duval Loop is funded 50% from the City’s Transportation Alternatives Fund (TAF) and 50% from an FDOT Development grant. The TAF gets much of its funding from parking revenue. The grant ends June 30, 2021. We understand parking revenue is down right now. We also get that in 14 months the grant runs out. But according to the City of Key West’s 10-Year Transit Development Plan, the City has always assumed the Duval Loop would be FREE well in the future until 2029 (see Revenue Assumptions on page 9-5.) They knew the grant would run out and took that into account with their long range plan, so why the change?

Regarding revenues we understand that with the shutdown the fiscal situation is worsening for Key West, Monroe County and all cities and states. So why just pop up this one change now? Why isn’t the city holding a session to publicly vet 50 revenue generating ideas and 50 cost cutting measures? We believe the need to increase City revenues should be looked at holistically and major decisions about such a key component of our downtown’s economy, the Duval Loop, should be too. This isn’t a thoughtful approach.

There are approximately 3,000 on-street parking spaces in Old Town below White Street. About 1/3 of these spaces are metered, 1/3 are marked Residential and 1/3 are unmarked. Residential Permits can be had for $20 annually or $0.05 cents per day. The unmarked spaces are free. That’ means two thirds of downtown parking spaces are virtually free. We want MORE people to walk, bike and take the bus downtown. Not drive. So why are we making it more difficult to use the bus while we’ve never properly addressed right pricing our parking supply?

Here’s some more reasons why charging visitors to use the Duval Loop is a bad idea:

  • FREE and FREQUENT, painted on the sides of the buses, is easy to market. It mostly sells itself. Now we’ll really need to spend money on marketing
  • The service goes from an nice amenity or an economic development tool to, well, a bus service
  • The Hop On Hop Off aspect is ruined as now it is just another bus route where one needs exact change and has to queue up to pay
  • We ask people who DO drive to park at one of our facilities like the Grinnell Street Garage and then hop on our free downtown shuttle to get around. Ooops. Well now what?
  • It’s just a dollar. But who always has exact change these days? Who even wants to deal with cash and all those germs? What’s a family to do if they have to pay $4 on the first trip and $4 back? Any cost will have an elasticity factor and ridership will suffer
  • Queueing up to pay slows things down. It causes delays and friction. Delays and friction will cause a drop off in ridership
  • Counting and securing cash has hard costs and personnel costs
  • We’ve made a commitment to the lodging, attractions, restaurant and retail businesses and all the visitors who have rated the service so highly (4.5 out of 5 on Trip Advisor). Now we’re changing the rules when we couldn’t possibly have consulted with these stakeholders as they are all closed.
  • As we make the service harder to use, some people will choose to drive. That means a more congested streets downtown
  • As we make the service harder to use, some people will simply choose not to go to another part of downtown, thereby hurting some small businesses

If more people walk, bike and take the bus it makes our streets more efficient. It is friendly to our environment and helps combat climate change. It makes us healthier. And happier too. Very importantly it helps our local businesses prosper. Charging a fee for using this amazingly successful bus is the wrong way to go. It is a step backwards. Please Mayor Johnston and City Commissioners, vote NO on this, not well thought out proposal to impose a fare.

Articles:

A few comments from Facebook and the City’s eComment system on Item #7. Click on any one of these to enlarge and then arrow to each comment in a larger format for ease of reading:

20 Parklets on Duval in 2020

This is a more in-depth follow up to our article “3 Quick Wins for Revitalizing Duval Street” where we advocated for quickly putting in parklets, bike parking and letting people take the street as a way to pedestrianize Duval, even if closing it off to cars completely or rebuilding it won’t happen right away.

Wouldn’t it be nice to reimagine a Duval Street with more people and less cars when the shops, bars and restaurants reopen? Many people want to make all of or parts of Duval Street a pedestrian-only zone, except for delivery vehicles. But the experimental Mall on Duval program is over and not coming back because the City is conducting a “Duval Street Revitalization” study. So it could be a long time before any action is taken. One way to “widen our sidewalks” and add more people activity to our Main Street quickly would be to allow businesses, organizations or even the City to install parklets in space that is currently used for car parking. How about setting a goal for getting 20 of these planned and started, if not open, during 2020.

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. They are intended to be used by people, usually to sit, either as an open park or as part of a retail establishment nearby. They are often temporary and can be built quickly and relatively inexpensively. So putting these in now wouldn’t preclude more permanent infrastructure changes in the future. In fact, this little bit of tactical urbanism would be a nice way to test out wider sidewalks before going to the expense of rebuilding the street. It might be a way for restaurants to add capacity at a time when they may need to decrease tables inside to meet physical distancing guidelines.

According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) Street Design Guidelines manual: “Parklets are typically applied where narrow or congested sidewalks prevent the installation of traditional sidewalk cafes, or where local property owners or residents see a need to expand the seating capacity and public space on a given street. To obtain a parklet, property owners enter into an agree­ment with the city, in some cases through a citywide application process, procuring curbside seating in place of one or more parking spaces.”

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 streets, providing additional spots for parklets.

Parklets shouldn’t just be for Duval Street. Anywhere near Duval or how about anywhere downtown where there are groups of retail shops, should be able to participate. Southard and Fleming Streets between Simonton and Whitehead are perfect places to add street vitality. Why not on White Street? Where else?

Installing retail sponsored parklets provide opportunities for restaurants to provide dining for customers. Installing public parklets provide anyone with a place to stop, rest, have a drink from another establishment and people watch. Studies show that older folks especially consider sidewalk furniture important. Another benefit of public parklets is the community of Third Places. A public space to sit or to sit and eat, if it has a table, draws people to sit and chat and share and recognize their neighbors. Saying meet me in front of X now means I can sit down. Coffee shops are a great example of Third Places but you have to buy something to use it. A public parklet become a Third Place and that creates community. We need both privately sponsored and publicly sponsored parklets. And publicly sponsored doesn’t necessarily mean City-sponsored. It could be a nearby retail shop, a civic or non-profit group or a general benefactor.

Parklets would help further enliven the street and their extension into the right of way would slow down cars. Perhaps grants can be given to groups to build these? Restaurants and retail shops could build their own or team with others to help them. The TDC could provide money. Or CFFK. Team with Key West Hight School and/or arts organizations to help design, build and decorate them like was done with the trash and recycling on the street.

We need to make the permits for these free and restaurants should NOT incur additional charges for the new outdoor seating. This is something we should encourage and making it onerous for businesses to participate will kill any effort to enliven the street.

The dream of revitalizing Duval Street and making it more pedestrian friendly doesn’t have to wait for a study and an infrastructure rebuild to happen. If we could simply widen our existing sidewalks by taking over some of the space being used for car parking we could get closer to that dream right now.

Here’s more information and some design guidelines from the National Association of Transportation City Transportation Officials (NACTO) from their Urban Street Design Guidelines manual.

Active Streets for Business, City of Milwaukee – A pilot program to support local businesses by promoting the safe reopening of restaurants and bars through expanded options for increased physical distancing and dining in outdoor areas. View the presentation from June 3, 2020.

Guidelines
Application Instructions

Reimagining Key West – 3 Quick Wins for Revitalizing Duval Street

Please check out our follow-up article “City of Key West – Let Our Restaurants Take Our Streets!” May 6, 2020.

With lots of good people thinking about Reimagining Key West in a post Coronavirus world, there have been several popular calls for pedestrianizing Duval Street, especially the portion between Front Street and Truman Avenue or Lower and Middle Duval. Followers of our Facebook page, Friends of Car-Free Key West, know we are advocates for this concept. People seemingly have talked about this idea for decades. The Mayor’s experimental Mall on Duval was the first attempt to do something in ages but that’s now officially over. Keeping in mind some other things* the City is doing, here are three ideas for some quick wins right now to get us closer to this vision.

1. Install 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. They are intended to be used by people, usually to sit, either as an open park or as part of a retail establishment nearby. They are often temporary and can be built quickly and relatively inexpensively. There are places along Duval where there is currently parking (300, 800, 900 blocks) or where the street widens and 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 streets, providing additional spots for parklets.

Parklets shouldn’t just be for Duval Street. Anywhere near Duval or how about anywhere downtown where there are groups of retail shops, should be able to participate. Southard and Fleming Streets between Simonton and Whitehead. On White Street. And more.

For MORE on parklets read: 20 Parklets on Duval in 2020

Installing parklets provide opportunities for restaurants to provide sidewalk dining, provide people with a place to stop, rest and people watch. They would help further enliven the street and their extension into the right of way would slow down cars. Perhaps grants can be given to groups to build these? Restaurants and retail shops could build their own or team with others to help them. The TDC could provide money! Team with Key West Hight School and/or arts organizations? Make it free for businesses to participate and easy via the permit system to build.

Here’s more information and some design guidelines from the National Association of Transportation City Transportation Officials (NACTO) from their Urban Street Design Guidelines manual.

2. Install Bike Parking

A couple months ago the City’s Transportation Coordinator announced they’d taken receipt of a lot of new bicycle racks and wanted some input on where to put them. Use some of the same space described above for bicycle and scooter parking. We should be encouraging more people to bike and provide more parking, right where people want to go, to makes it easy as possible.

Do the bicycle parking corral style so that there’s a lot of parking in one spot. Bike Corrals are bike racks installed in the curbside lane of the street instead of on the sidewalk. This design is a great solution for places where demand for bicycle parking exceeds the available sidewalk space. Where adjacent, integrate it with the parklets. Bicycle parking should also be consistently found in large numbers, corral style on Duval’s cross streets. Eaton Street at Duval, next to St. Paul’s is a good example. In most cases the corral style also lends itself to adding scooter parking too. Where possible we should include electric hook up to encourage quiet electric scooters.

3. Slow The Cars and Let People Take the Street

If we don’t ban cars during certain hours on certain blocks, like we did for Mall on Duval, why not simply make the speed limit 5 miles per hour and allow people to walk in the street. If vehicles need or want to go down the street, they simply need to go slow and keep in mind that people have the right away. Always. Much of Commercial Street in Provincetown works this way. Cars use the street, but so do people and so cars only do so when they need to and they go very slow and carefully.

We wouldn’t need to do much planning nor infrastructure improvements to implement this. Doing these things wouldn’t have to be permanent, so if we want to reconfigure the street in the future, we can change things. The idea is to do something quick, get a win and feel good about reimagining Key West.

*Two quick notes. 1) The City of Key West put out a Request for Qualifications in hopes of selecting a firm to “provide complete services for the revitalization of the historic street.” Proposals were due February 19. No word yet if a firm has been selected and the process has begun. 2) The City is in the final phases of repaving Duval Street. The City has spent the last four weeks rebuilding intersection curb and gutter, some mid-block curb and gutter and has rebuilt many patches of the street in anticipation of putting down new, smooth asphalt – which should start any day now. With this in mind we’d guess that no major physical changes would be considered at the moment.

Please check out our first article in this series “Reimagining Key West – 10 Things We Should Strive For and 10 Ways to Get There” posted on April 22.

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

Main Photo Credit Rob O’Neil, March 29, 2020

Reimagining Key West

– 10 Things We Should Strive For and 10 Ways To Get There

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 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 LTBTQ 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 work-force 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.

89 Great Streets in the U.S.A.

Of the American Planning Association‘s (APA) 306 Great Places in America, 89 of them are designated as Great Streets. The balance of these places are either neighborhoods or public spaces. APA designated the Great Places in the years 2007-2019 and is currently working on releasing their winners for 2020.

Key West’s Duval Street is among the 89. We bring you this Great Streets List because Key West is embarking on a study and reimagining how to improve it’s own main street. We hope perusing this list provides for ideas on how to make our own great street – Duval Street – even better.

  1. Cushman Street: Fairbanks, Alaska
  2. Broadway Street: Skagway, Alaska
  3. Congress Street: Tuscon, Arizon
  4. Spring Street: Eureka Springs, Arkansas
  5. Olvera Street: Los Angeles, California
  6. 5th Avenue: San Diego, California
  7. State Street: Santa Barbara, California
  8. Aspen Pedestrian Mall: Aspen, Colorado
  9. Pearl Street Mall: Boulder, Colorado
  10. U Street N.W.: Washington, D.C.
  11. Broadwalk: Hollywood, Florida
  12. Laura Street: Jacksonville, Florida
  13. Duval Street: Key West, Florida
  14. Ocean Drive: Miami Beach, Florida
  15. Palafox Street: Pensacola, Florida
  16. Clematis Street: West Palm Beach, Florida
  17. 7th Avenue: Tampa, Florida
  18. Bull Street: Savannah, Georgia
  19. The Squares of Savannah: Savannah, Georgia
  20. Front Street: Lahaina, Hawaii
  21. Sherman Avenue: Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
  22. Main Street: Ketchum, Idaho
  23. Bank Street: Wallace, Idaho
  24. Lincoln Avenue and Giddings Plaza: Chicago, Illinois
  25. North Michigan Avenue: Chicago, Illinois
  26. Main Street: Galena, Illinois
  27. Monument Circle: Indianapolis, Indiana
  28. Massachusetts Street: Lawrence, Kansas
  29. West Main Street: Louisville, Kentucky
  30. St. Charles Avenue: New Orleans, Louisiana
  31. Front Street: Bath, Maine
  32. Commercial Street: Portland, Maine
  33. Congress Street: Portland, Maine
  34. Main Street: Annapolis, Maryland
  35. Washington Street: Boston, Massachusetts
  36. Main Street: Nantucket, Massachusetts
  37. South Main Street: Ann Arbor, Michigan
  38. Front Street: Traverse City, Michigan
  39. Summit Avenue: St. Paul, Minnesota
  40. Washington Avenue: St. Louis, Missouri
  41. Main Street: Bozeman, Montana
  42. Broadway Avenue: Red Lodge, Montana
  43. South 24th Street: Omaha, Nebraska
  44. Water Street: Henderson, Nevada
  45. C Street: Virginia City, Nevada
  46. Market Street and Market Square: Portsmouth, New Hampshire
  47. Haddon Avenue: Collingswood, New Jersey
  48. Washington Street: Hoboken, New Jersey
  49. Bridge Street: Las Vegas, New Mexico
  50. Arthur Avenue: Bronx, New York
  51. Market Street: Corning, New York
  52. Wall Street: Kingston, New York
  53. Broadway: New York, New York
  54. Fifth Avenue: New York, New York
  55. Harlem’s 125th Street: New York, New York
  56. Main Street: Sag Harbor, New York
  57. Broadway: Saratoga Springs, New York
  58. Main Street: Waterloo, New York
  59. Lexington Avenue: Asheville, North Carolina
  60. Main Street: Davidson, North Carolina
  61. Middle Street: New Bern, North Carolina
  62. Fayetteville Street: Raleigh, North Carolina
  63. Fifth Street: Dayton, Ohio
  64. Third Street: McMinnville, Oregon
  65. 5th and 6th Avenues – Portland Transit Mall: Portland, Oregon
  66. Liberty Street: Franklin, Pennsylvania
  67. Broadway: Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania
  68. South Broad Street: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  69. Rittenhouse Square: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  70. Grant Street: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  71. Broad Street: Charleston, South Carolina
  72. King Street: Charleston, South Carolina
  73. Main Street: Greenville, South Carolina
  74. State Street: Bristol, Tennessee, and Bristol, Virginia
  75. Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge: Chattanooga, Tennessee
  76. Gay Street: Knoxville, Tennessee
  77. South El Paso Street: El Paso, Texas
  78. The Strand (Avenue B): Galveston, Texas
  79. West Magnolia Avenue: Fort Worth, Texas
  80. 25th Street: Ogden, Utah
  81. South Temple Street: Salt Lake City, Utah
  82. King Street: Alexandria, Virginia
  83. Clarendon-Wilson Corridor: Arlington, Virginia
  84. Davis Street: Culpeper, Virginia
  85. Washington Street: Middleburg, Virginia
  86. Monument Avenue: Richmond, Virginia
  87. West Beverley Street: Staunton, Virginia
  88. Duke of Gloucester Street: Williamsburg, Virginia
  89. North Main Street: Wheeling, West Virginia