Grading the Candidates on Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People: District 6

By Chris Hamilton, July 21, 2020

Article 2 of 4: Challenger Ryan Barnett is a Good “Friend” of Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People

Article 1: Grading the Candidates on Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People Issues: Weekley and Kaufman Stand Out as True “Friends”
Article 3: Grading the Candidates on Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People Issues: District 3 – Challenger Kimball Ingram is a Good “Friend” of Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People
Article 4: Grading the Candidates on Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People: Mayor Teri Johnston is a Very Good “Friend” of Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People

NOTE THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN ON JULY 21, 2020 for the August 18 primary. We’ve written a follow-up article on September 29 entitled: Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People Need New Talent on City Commission – That’s Why We’re Voting for Dr. Ryan Barnett in District 6

Today Friends of Car-Free Key West brings you our results for the District 6 City Commission election downtown, taking place on August 18 between incumbent City Commissioner Clayton Lopez and challengers Dr. Ryan Barnett and John Wilson Smith. Based upon the incumbent’s voting record over the last four years and both his and his challengers answers to our 13 questions in four categories: Duval Street and Downtown, Duval Loop and Public Transit, Bicycle and Pedestrian and Parking Strategies, we give Dr. Barnett a Grade of B, Commissioner Lopez a Grade of D+ and John Wilson Smith No Grade (more on that in a minute) on Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People Issues. Therefore, Friends of Car-Free Key West recommends voting for Dr. Ryan Barnett in District 6.

We want to thank all three candidates for talking with us and Dr. Barnett (response) and Commissioner Lopez (response) for making the effort and taking the time to thoughtfully respond in writing. We know the gregarious and warm-hearted Commissioner Lopez well and respect his long-tenured service. However that isn’t enough to overcome what we see as a lack of understanding and commitment on our issues based on his record on the dais and answers to our questionnaire. In our conversation with Mr. Smith it was evident he’s open to our ideas but he admitted he’s still talking to the people and experts and is still fact gathering, so couldn’t yet answer our questions. Further below we provide a spreadsheet that includes the specific Past Votes and how we scored them, the 13 questions and our scores of each answer and all of the responses from the candidates in their entirety in their own words. (Photo credit for restaurant picture Michael Beattie at Conch Scooter blog.)

CandidatePast Votes ScoreQuestionaire ScoreGrade
Commissioner Lopez34D+
Dr. Ryan BarnettNA10B
John William SmithNA0NG
Past Vote Scores can range up to 16+ points, Questionnaire Scores can range up to 13+ points.

Why Dr. Ryan Barnett for District 6

Commissioner Lopez’ Disappointing Record and Vision

Twice voting against extending Mall on Duval, a vote against keeping the Duval Loop free for visitors, a vote to keep four car lanes on S. Roosevelt instead of bicycle/pedestrian-friendly alternatives, and a vote against expanding metered parking in Jackson Square and the 500 block of Thomas, demonstrate how the incumbent has often disappointed those of us seeking multi-modal progressive change. He reiterates this letdown when answering our questions, including pushing interim ideas off until a Duval Study is done, not supporting removing parking on Duval Street unless a like amount is found elsewhere, pushing off committing to Duval Street revitalization and bus marketing and not supporting an increase in the Residential Parking Permit nor Zoned Residential Parking Permits, especially egregious because he represents downtown where parking in front of one’s own house is difficult.

After fifteen (15) years of service on the City Commission we believe that if we want to make it easier and safer to bike, walk, take the bus and use streets for people we need change in District 6. In his answers, Dr. Barnet effectively communicates a new and exciting voice for doing better on these issues.

“Making it safer to get around by walking, bike or bus would be my goal when working with Car Free Key West. “

Ryan Barnett
Dr. Barnett Envisions a Pedestrian Friendly Duval Street With Less Cars

Dr. Barnett’s responses indicate an already broad depth of knowledge on the four issue categories and a willingness to lead the charge on trying new things that is commendable. In particular his discussion of Duval Street resonated with us.

He gets that we need to invest now in Duval Street to attract new business. He explains that a future with social distancing means “adapting in a way that helps to change the landscape of our main thoroughfare to keep up with the ever-changing environment.

Parklets example

In discussing interim ideas before the Duval Street Study is completed he says: “I would like to see a more pedestrian friendly Duval Street with less cars and more foot traffic. This could be accomplished by making Duval Street a one-way street that slows traffic using plants, street markings and bollards to help slow traffic. Also, adding more park benches and restaurant seating outside in front of restaurants so people are able to social distance but still enjoy a more pedestrian friendly Duval Street.” Importantly in answer to our question about removing parking on Duval he answers yes he would do it and yes he’d support an ordinance allowing parklets (benches or tables and chairs). We have advocated for many of these ideas and like his willingness to start making change now.

In contrast, just a few days ago on the “It’s Too Early With Gwen Filosa Show“, note how Commissioner Lopez answered reporter Gwen Filosa. “About Duval Street. Pedestrian only? What do you think?” She asked. He said: “I’m so hesitant to go in that direction.” Gwen says maybe partially? Commissioner Lopez continues: “I’d consider that, (partial). I think that some of the visions people have of Duval Street as this pedestrian mall are based on cities that have sidewalks twice as large as ours… we don’t have that much space, so would I entertain the thought, absolutely, but would I say I’d like to see that going in? No.” (Check the 29:42 mark of their conversation at the link above for the exchange.)

We think it is worth sharing a response to this question from Keys Weekly to Dr. Barnett. What’s one thing that the city council can do to help small businesses? His answer is pertinent because it shows that he doesn’t care about these issues just when he’s talking to us advocates:

“We can very equally acknowledge that there are other things we can do to help support small businesses. We are seeing it with Duval Street. We’ve fought about the Duval Mall and closing Duval Street for as long as I can remember. Overnight, when social distancing became an issue, we have closed Duval Street for the public during the weekend, and it has positively contributed to the ambiance and foot traffic in a safe way. We have to build on top of that and take that further. We have to allow outside seating for our restaurants to offset closing 50% of their seating.”

Dr. Ryan Barnett in the Keys Weekly newspaper
Ryan Barnett Believes in Investing in Enhanced Public Transit

In response to our question about returning to free fares on the Duval Loop and bringing free fares to the City routes he answers, “yes” as he’d like to make transit “as attractive as possible for riders.” He discusses this in the context of raising the cost of a Residential Parking Permit saying “at 5 cents a day for a parking permit in Key West I think we could consider raising the price of a permit help pay for an enhanced public transportation system.” We wholeheartedly agree!

Duval Loop bus

In response to our question about Key West Transit hiring a marketing firm, he says yes that needs to be done and goes on to say “Programs and marketing that promote public transport and decreased dependence on driving cars from point A to point B would be very beneficial. A lot of the time tourists don’t realize they don’t need a rental car but pay for one and never use it. This takes up parking spots and provides for a driving hazard when people that are unfamiliar with the road and one ways are behind the wheel in Key West.” We like that again he holistically ties the need for better transit to too many cars on the island. Lastly he agrees compensation needs to be increased to attract and retain a stable base of bus drivers and says “Sustainability is a big part of my platform. Creating a more sustainable and enjoyable public transportation is very important.” We think Key West Transit would have a very good friend in Ryan Barnett.

Dr. Barnett Ties Less On-Street Parking In Tourist Areas to More Room for Bicycles
Dr. Ryan Barnett

Like with transit, Dr. Barnett seems to take a step back and realize that addressing the number of cars on the street relates to making it easy and safe to use a bicycle, saying in response to our question about naming a few bicycle and pedestrian projects: “More street markings around the city for bicycles. Less on street parking in high-density tourist areas. This would allow for less car traffic in pedestrian heavy locations. Better services to help tourists get to their vacation rentals without having to rent a car. “

He goes on to say: “Add more street markings for bicycles in areas where bike safety is an issue. For example, a road like Windsor by the cemetery could benefit from more street markings to remind people to look out for bicycles on the road.

We like that he rides his bike everyday. Contrast this to most current city leaders and management and perhaps bicycle advocates will have a true friend at city hall.

Raising the Cost of Parking to Pay for Alternatives to the Car

In answer to our question about raising the price of Residential Parking Permits Dr. Barnett says:

Yes it’s a supply and demand principle to me. The supply of parking spots in Key West is very sparse and the demand for these spaces is high. Therefore, price for parking should go up. This accomplishes two things. Hopefully a continued decrease in dependence for cars in Key West. But also a larger fund to support programs that allow people to travel around Key West without the need for a vehicle. Especially when they are visiting. 

We especially like this quote as it shows that Dr. Barnett understands the relationship of parking pricing to the amount of cars on our streets and the need to invest in bike, walk and transit programs. While Dr. Barnett doesn’t favor Residential Parking Permits by Zone as we do, his answers throughout the survey lead us to believe he’d have an open mind in the right context.

Ryan Barnett Understands Bike, Walk, Transit Makes Our Island Better

In the end, we believe a vote for Dr. Ryan Barnett means a better future for bicycling, walking, transit and using streets for people in Key West. We wholeheartedly recommend voters in District 6 embrace change for a brighter future.

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The Scoring and Backup Documents

We’ve compiled a spreadsheet that includes scores from Past Votes and scores from the Questionnaire and provides a final Grade, based upon those scores, for each candidate. A snippet of the Candidates Scoring Spreadsheet is below. You can also download the spreadsheet as a PDF for ease of reading. As we add races (District Three and the Mayor’s races), the spreadsheet will grow to include each. You’ll notice it has the Past Votes scores of the existing City Commissioners too. Scores are broken down into four categories:

  • Duval Street and Downtown
  • Duval Loop and Public Transit
  • Bicycle and Pedestrian
  • Parking Strategies
Past Votes Record and Scoring

We were able to find 16 votes over the past four years on these issues broken down as: Duval Street and Downtown (4 votes); Duval Loop and Public Transit (2 votes); Bicycle and Pedestrian (6 votes); and Parking Strategies (4 votes). In scoring these votes we generally gave a plus one (+1) if they agreed with our position on the item and a minus one (-1) if they didn’t. In a few instances we gave an extra point for some votes we deemed extra worthy or an extra point for the item’s Commission sponsor. Generally a total Score of about 16+ is possible.

You can click on the above spreadsheet image to enlarge and read it better. With the three downloads below you can click on the words and pull up the document directly or you can hit the download button and download the file.

Below are Dr. Ryan Barnett’s and Commissioner Clayton Lopez’ responses:

The Votes

Duval Street and Downtown

  • Aug 21, 2018; Approving Lease of 1400 Block to Southernmost House in exchange for them building a pocket park (FOR)
  • April 2, 2019; Item 22, Vote to Extend Mall on Duval through May, June, July & until midnight (FOR)
  • August 20, 2019; Vote to Extend Mall on Duval through November, 2019 (FOR)
  • November 19, 2019; Vote to Extend Mall on Duval twice a month through February 17, 2020 and then cease (FOR)

Duval Loop and Public Transit

  • August 6, 2019; Item #11, Approve submission of 10-Year Transit Development Plan (FOR)
  • May 5, 2020; Item #10, Authorize $1 Fare for visitors on Duval Loop (AGAINST)

Bicycle and Pedestrian

  • February 7, 2017; Item #23, Authorize FDOT to proceed with 4 car lanes or no changes instead of FDOT and publicly recommended 2 car lanes, middle turn lane and protected bikeway (AGAINST)
  • March 20, 2018; Item #16, Recommend City Manager make efforts to hire a Transportation Coordinator in a timely manner (FOR)
  • September 20, 2018; Item #27 Revisit Speed Limit Map, establish limits to greatest extent (FOR)
  • March 5, 2019; Item #21 Accepting Key West Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Transportation Plan (FOR)
  • September 19, 2019; Authorize rebuilding Atlantic Boulevard Multi-Use Path (FOR)
  • November 16, 2019; Admiral’s Cut discussion sponsored by Weekley. Withdrawn from Agenda (FOR bridging Admiral’s Cut)

Parking Strategies

  • September 20, 2018; Item #14, Accepting Parking and Alternative Transportation Report (FOR)
  • September 4, 2019; Item #22, Meter 1500 block of Reynolds and 700 and 800 blocks of Seminole (Casa Marina) (FOR)
  • September 4, 2019; Item #23, Meter Smathers Beach (FOR)
  • December 3, 2019; Meter Jackson Square and 500 block of Thomas Street while accepting Employee Pass (FOR)
Questionnaire Scoring

Each of the four categories includes three questions and one final overall question for a total of 13 that we sent to the candidates. They are scored the same way with up to one point (+1) for a good answer to minus a point (-1) for a bad answer. There were a few answers we deemed good enough for an extra half point. Generally a total score of 13 is possible on the Questionnaire.

The Questions

Duval Street and Downtown

  1. Do you favor funding the Duval Street Revitalization Study in the fiscal year 2021 budget? Will you fund the recommended improvements in the next year? Answer limited to 100 words.
  2. What are your ideas for interim projects (before the Study makes recommendations) on Duval or Downtown that would make it more pedestrian friendly and people oriented? Answer limited to 100 words.
  3. Do you think removing all parking on Duval Street would enhance the downtown environment? Would you support an ordinance that would allow parklets (benches or tables and chairs on a platform) to replace parking downtown? Answer limited to 100 words.

Duval Loop and Public Transit

  1. Do you favor returning to a free Duval Loop for visitors to our island? Do you favor fare free rides on other City routes for everyone? Answer limited to 100 words.
  2. Do you believe a third-party consulting firm should be retained to assist the City with branding and marketing the Duval Loop, Key West Transit and Lower Keys Shuttle programs? Answer limited to 100 words.
  3. Do you believe compensation of bus drivers should be increased to attract and retain a stable base of drivers?  Answer limited to 100 words.

Bicycle and Pedestrian 

  1. Please name a few bicycle and/or pedestrian projects (they can be from the Bike/Ped Plan) you would vote to fund in your term. Answer limited to 100 words.
  2. How often do you ride a bicycle and for what purposes?  How do you propose we get more people to bike and walk in Key West? Answer limited to 100 words. 
  3. Do you believe increased traffic enforcement (speeding) will improve public safety for pedestrians and people on bicycles? Or do you believe that infrastructure improvements will improve safety? Or Education? Perhaps nothing more is needed or perhaps all 3? Explain how public safety should be accomplished. Answer limited to 100 words.

Parking Strategies

  1. Do you favor raising the price on Residential Parking Permits to the $35 proposed in the FY21 budget? And even more for 2nd and 3rd vehicles? Do you favor going incrementally higher in future years? Answer limited to 100 words.
  2. Do you favor instituting Residential Permit Parking by Zone so that the permit allows one to park near one’s own home? Answer limited to 100 words.
  3. Should the City hire more parking enforcement officers since it has been demonstrated that these positions are self-funding and that residents desire increased enforcement efforts. Answer limited to 100 words.

GENERAL/CATCH ALL

  1. What do you think of when you think of Car-Free Key West and its mission and how do you propose to make it easier and safer for more people to bike, walk, take the bus and use streets and why do you think this is important? Limit 300 words.
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.

Grading the Candidates on Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People

By Chris Hamilton, july 20, 2020

Article 1 of 4: Weekley and Kaufman Stand Out as True “Friends”

Article 2: Grading the Candidates on Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People: District 6 – Challenger Ryan Barnett is a Good “Friend” of Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People
Article 3: Grading the Candidates on Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People: District 3 – Challenger Kimball Ingram is a Good “Friend” of Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People
Article 4: Grading the Candidates on Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People: Mayor Teri Johnston is a Very Good “Friend” of Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People

Which of the candidates for Mayor and City Commission of Key West are best on the issues of bike, walk, transit and streets for people? Who truly are the “Friends” of Car-Free Key West? We hope to help answer those question with a series of articles over the next week. We’ve tracked past votes and received answers to our questions from all the candidates. Based upon the record and their answers, we are providing scores, grades and recommendations.

In our next post we’ll look at the District 6 downtown race between incumbent Commissioner Clayton Lopez and challengers Dr. Ryan Barnett and John William Smith. Next we’ll review the District 3 New Town race between incumbent Commissioner Billy Wardlow and challenger Kimball Ingram. Finally we’ll bring you our look at the Mayor’s race between incumbent Mayor Teri Johnston and challengers Mark Rossi and Rick Haskins.

In each of these races we looked at the past voting records of the incumbents on 16 different votes over the last four years. We gave a score to each of the votes based upon whether we agreed with that vote or not. Since we didn’t have a past record for the challengers, we sent a questionnaire to every candidate and asked them to help us by filling it out. To their credit, all the candidates responded in one way or another. We similarly scored those answers.

For full transparency, we will provide you with Past Votes and Questionnaire scores. We will also share each candidates answers to the Questionnaire in full. For ease of understanding and comparison, we then gave each candidate a simple Grade of A (Excellent) through F (Fail) based upon those scores. The candidate with the higher grade receives our recommendation. It is that simple.

One thing we plan on doing in the future is providing a rolling Friend’s Votes Walk, Bike, Transit and Streets for People Scorecard for grading the incumbents every year. So we’ll build upon the scorecard spreadsheet and fill it in with new votes and present it each year. We want the Mayor and City Commission to know we care about these issues and are watching. Look for the next Friend’s Votes Scorecard in the summer/fall of 2021 and then another one a year later, just before the 2022 elections.

Scorecard on Current Commissioners Voting Record
CommissionerVotes’ Total ScoreLetter Grade
Jimmy Weekley16B+
Sam Kaufman16B+
Greg Davila10C+
Mary Lou Hoover6C

Since we’re saving the presentation of each of the races over the next few days, today we bring the scores of the newly elected incumbent Commissioner Jimmy Weekley, who didn’t have a challenger, and the other three incumbent Commissioners, Sam Kaufman, Greg Davila and Mary Lou Hoover. This way you can preview the Votes and take a look at the questions. We didn’t ask these folks to fill out a questionnaire.

Commissioners Weekley and Kaufman Consistently Vote for Bike, Walk Transit and Streets for People

With votes always approving the Mall on Duval and increasing metered parking spaces as well as sponsoring establishing slower speeds (Kaufman) and a pedestrian bridge at Admiral’s Cut (Weekley), amongst a host of other positive votes, Commissioners Weekley and Kaufman are consistently in the corner of bike, walk, transit and streets for people.

As they were the lone two votes in February of 2017 against keeping four car lanes on S. Roosevelt instead of bicycle/pedestrian-friendly alternatives and again in May of 2020 against instituting a fare on the Duval Loop for visitors, the two Commissioners stand out for going against the grain and doing the right thing. That’s why they both scored 16 points and received a grade of B+ on our scorecard. We wish everyone on the dais voted on these issues the same as them. Key West would be better for it.

Next article we’ll bring you the results for the District 6 race for Commissioner, so please stay tuned…

—–

The Scoring and Backup Documents

We’ve compiled a spreadsheet that includes scores from Past Votes and scores from the Questionnaire and provides a final Grade, based upon those scores, for each candidate. A snippet of the Candidates Scoring Spreadsheet is below. You can also download the spreadsheet as a PDF for ease of reading. As we add races, the spreadsheet will grow to include each. You’ll notice it has the Past Votes scores of the existing City Commissioners too. Scores are broken down into four categories: 

  • Duval Street and Downtown
  • Duval Loop and Public Transit
  • Bicycle and Pedestrian
  • Parking Strategies
Past Votes Record and Scoring

We were able to find 16 votes over the past four years on these issues broken down as: Duval Street and Downtown (4 votes); Duval Loop and Public Transit (2 votes); Bicycle and Pedestrian (6 votes); and Parking Strategies (4 votes). In scoring these votes we generally gave a plus one (+1) if they agreed with our position on the item and a minus one (-1) if they didn’t. In a few instances we gave an extra point for some votes we deemed extra worthy or an extra point for the item’s Commission sponsor. Generally a total Score of about 16+ is possible.

Click on the above image to enlarge it and read it more easily or download it using the button below.
The Votes

Duval Street and Downtown

  • Aug 21, 2018; Approving Lease of 1400 Block to Southernmost House in exchange for them building a pocket park (FOR)
  • April 2, 2019; Item 22, Vote to Extend Mall on Duval through May, June, July & until midnight (FOR)
  • August 20, 2019; Vote to Extend Mall on Duval through November, 2019 (FOR)
  • November 19, 2019; Vote to Extend Mall on Duval twice a month through February 17, 2020 and then cease (FOR)

Duval Loop and Public Transit

  • August 6, 2019; Item #11, Approve submission of 10-Year Transit Development Plan (FOR)
  • May 5, 2020; Item #10, Authorize $1 Fare for visitors on Duval Loop (AGAINST)

Bicycle and Pedestrian

  • February 7, 2017; Item #23, Authorize FDOT to proceed with 4 car lanes or no changes instead of FDOT and publicly recommended 2 car lanes, middle turn lane and protected bikeway (AGAINST)
  • March 20, 2018; Item #16, Recommend City Manager make efforts to hire a Transportation Coordinator in a timely manner (FOR)
  • September 20, 2018; Item #27 Revisit Speed Limit Map, establish limits to greatest extent (FOR)
  • March 5, 2019; Item #21 Accepting Key West Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Transportation Plan (FOR)
  • September 19, 2019; Authorize rebuilding Atlantic Boulevard Multi-Use Path (FOR)
  • November 16, 2019; Admiral’s Cut discussion sponsored by Weekley. Withdrawn from Agenda (FOR bridging Admiral’s Cut)

Parking Strategies

  • September 20, 2018; Item #14, Accepting Parking and Alternative Transportation Report (FOR)
  • September 4, 2019; Item #22, Meter 1500 block of Reynolds and 700 and 800 blocks of Seminole (Casa Marina) (FOR)
  • September 4, 2019; Item #23, Meter Smathers Beach (FOR)
  • December 3, 2019; Meter Jackson Square and 500 block of Thomas Street while accepting Employee Pass (FOR)
Questionnaire Scoring

Each of the four categories includes three questions and one final overall question for a total of 13 that we sent to the candidates. They are scored the same way with up to one point (+1) for a good answer to minus a point (-1) for a bad answer. There were a few answers we deemed good enough for an extra half point. Generally a total score of 13 is possible on the Questionnaire.

The Questions

Duval Street and Downtown

  1. Do you favor funding the Duval Street Revitalization Study in the fiscal year 2021 budget? Will you fund the recommended improvements in the next year? Answer limited to 100 words.
  2. What are your ideas for interim projects (before the Study makes recommendations) on Duval or Downtown that would make it more pedestrian friendly and people oriented? Answer limited to 100 words.
  3. Do you think removing all parking on Duval Street would enhance the downtown environment? Would you support an ordinance that would allow parklets (benches or tables and chairs on a platform) to replace parking downtown? Answer limited to 100 words.

Duval Loop and Public Transit

  1. Do you favor returning to a free Duval Loop for visitors to our island? Do you favor fare free rides on other City routes for everyone? Answer limited to 100 words.
  2. Do you believe a third-party consulting firm should be retained to assist the City with branding and marketing the Duval Loop, Key West Transit and Lower Keys Shuttle programs? Answer limited to 100 words.
  3. Do you believe compensation of bus drivers should be increased to attract and retain a stable base of drivers?  Answer limited to 100 words.

Bicycle and Pedestrian 

  1. Please name a few bicycle and/or pedestrian projects (they can be from the Bike/Ped Plan) you would vote to fund in your term. Answer limited to 100 words.
  2. How often do you ride a bicycle and for what purposes?  How do you propose we get more people to bike and walk in Key West? Answer limited to 100 words. 
  3. Do you believe increased traffic enforcement (speeding) will improve public safety for pedestrians and people on bicycles? Or do you believe that infrastructure improvements will improve safety? Or Education? Perhaps nothing more is needed or perhaps all 3? Explain how public safety should be accomplished. Answer limited to 100 words.

Parking Strategies

  1. Do you favor raising the price on Residential Parking Permits to the $35 proposed in the FY21 budget? And even more for 2nd and 3rd vehicles? Do you favor going incrementally higher in future years? Answer limited to 100 words.
  2. Do you favor instituting Residential Permit Parking by Zone so that the permit allows one to park near one’s own home? Answer limited to 100 words.
  3. Should the City hire more parking enforcement officers since it has been demonstrated that these positions are self-funding and that residents desire increased enforcement efforts. Answer limited to 100 words.

GENERAL/CATCH ALL

  1. What do you think of when you think of Car-Free Key West and its mission and how do you propose to make it easier and safer for more people to bike, walk, take the bus and use streets and why do you think this is important? Limit 300 words.
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.

New 91-Space Parking Lot at 1300 Duval is Missed Opportunity for Downtown Affordable Housing and Revitalizing Our Main Street

By Chris Hamilton, July 11, 2020

Have you seen the construction going on at Duval and United? In a city chock full of creative, inventive and entrepreneurial people, how in the world did it come to this? The best use of a huge plot of land at 1300 Duval Street, our historic main street, is a 91-space commercial surface parking lot? That’s a mainland solution to land use. The good people of South Park – “ample parking day or night” – would be proud. The good people of Key West should be embarrassed. Especially since we’re desperately looking for land to build affordable housing downtown and because we’re looking to revitalize Duval Street. What a waste.

A 5-ft. grass landscape buffer concession is lipstick on a pig.

This is a backward step for the City. The owners of the property can’t even say how long they intend to keep it a parking lot. The HARC Chairman (to his credit he hated the proposed use) bemoaned that if the lot proves lucrative, it could be there a long time. And he’s right. Watching the City’s proceedings on the proposal were painful. It seems that because the owners of the property have a currently valid permit to run a parking lot, the City was powerless in stopping them from doing the same thing after they tear down the unhistoric Tropical Rental building and expanding the lot. The City Attorneys said they couldn’t deny the permit because there were no grounds in the code on which to deny it. So they had no choice but to approve it and get a few tiny concessions in the form a a 5-foot grass landscape buffer around the property that includes 100+ plants and a dozen trees. It’s like lipstick on a pig.

These blank spots muffle urban life, deadening the surrounding human environment. There’s no arguing that huge surface parking lots create an atmosphere that is inherently hostile to the pedestrian: dull, unbearably hot in summer, windswept in all seasons, and potentially menacing.

Sarah Goodyear, Bloomberg City Lab

A Failure at Planning for the Future

The failure is still on the City for not thinking ahead. Instead of always reacting to what developers bring them, the City should have identified this parcel a long time ago for redevelopment, especially since there are no historic structures on it. The City should have made the existing commercial parking lot license a non-conforming use, so that when it was sold, that use would no longer be valid. In fact they should have rezoned the property with some bonus density to prioritize getting what they do want. But in order to do these kinds of things, the City has to be more pro-active about its future. The City seems to just process requests. Why aren’t we doing any proactive planning? Instead we get stuck with a huge surface parking lot in the heart of downtown. This is a squandered opportunity.

Interim Uses Could Have Included Pop-Up Retail and the Arts

The City could have also sat down with the owner and talked about other interim uses for all or part of the lot to enliven downtown and perhaps help some struggling sectors of our community. Imagine that space with a bunch of food trucks and outdoor seating. Perfect in our Covid era. Imagine further some of that space filled with giant tents, or reused cargo containers converted for artists spaces or pop-up retail, like the wonderful Art Shack Studios and Galleries out on Stock Island. You could have still kept some parking for those uses, but THAT would have enlivened Upper Duval AND gave some of our struggling entrepreneurs a shot at starting something that could grow. That’s how you do economic development by the way, help small businesses start and grow. But we digress. Why didn’t the City call in the Chamber and the Arts Council to sit down with the owner and talk about the possibilities? No, the owner didn’t have to do anything other than they have done. But had someone showed they cared about what was going on in the middle of our main street, perhaps the new owners would have cared more too. Consider this another reason why Duval Streets needs a business improvement district (BID) (Does Duval Street Need a Business Improvement District?; June 4, 2020) because you can bet any BID worth its salt would have seized on this opportunity to do something better for downtown.

Let’s Get This Right the Next Time

We’re left with what? Hoping that if and when the new owner decides to do something with the property it will be to everyone’s liking and benefit? Or are we going to actively push now for the things we want in the future? A parcel this large and important doesn’t come along to be redeveloped that often. The City and the community have as much right to say what we want there as the property owner. And we can use carrots of higher density to sweeten the deal.

What is needed there is retail, arts, museum/attractions, restaurants or even office space on the first level. With affordable housing on top. And we should provide bonus density to go a little higher to get all the uses we want. While we’re at it the City needs to not ask for any parking minimums with any new development. This is downtown. Let’s expect people to walk, bike and take the bus for goodness sake. We can and should expect better for our Main Street, now and in the future. Let’s be vigilant and proactive in working with the new owner to think better for our future and get it right next go round.

Chris Hamilton, July 11, 2020

NOTE: To those who believe there is a lack of parking and welcome this urban blight, please read this article. We have plenty of parking downtown. The problem is it is badly managed. Here’s some solutions: “The City Raised Bus Fares. Time to Tackle Parking” May 12, 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.



Duval Street – We See the Future and it Could Start Now

By Chris Hamilton, June 24, 2020

This is a follow-up to our May 25 article “Can We Pedestrianize Duval Street AND Still Allow Vehicles?” The short answer was yes and we discussed the concept of a “Woonerf” or “Shared Street” that is designed for people but allows some cars at very slow speeds. In an article yesterday (Shared Street Is An Asset for Downtown, Robert Stueteville, June 23) the Congress for New Urbanism cites Clematis Street in West Palm Beach, Florida as a model for cities wanting to do similar with their main streets across the country.

From the article: “Starting in 2019, Clematis Street in West Palm Beach, has been rebuilt as a shared street, acting both as a public plaza and a traditional main street. Street improvements provide more shade trees and wider sidewalks, more seating and street amenities. The reconstructed street is completely curbless and devised to slow down traffic. Retractable bollards allow for an adaptable street where sections are easily closed to automobile traffic for special events, and the flexible curbside management combines café seating, on-street parking, bike parking, and ride-hailing pickup and drop off. All of this contributes to a strong placemaking program designed to contribute to downtown as an engine of the city’s economy.”

We reported on June 10 (Duval Street Revitalization Moves Forward) that the City Commission at its meeting of July 21 will pick between two finalists to conduct a Duval Street Revitalization Study. The Study will develop a Plan to rebuild the infrastructure of Duval Street to do many of the things that Clematis Street is doing. That’s a good thing. But the study will likely take a year to conduct and actually building new curb and gutter and much more could be many years away. Do we really want to wait that long? Especially when we need to learn to live with Covid, and could use more people-oriented streets NOW.

Let’s Use Tactical Urbanism To Close/Slow Duval Now

We think that we can close down some blocks and slow down other parts of Duval Street now, mimicking these improvements using low-cost, temporary, pop-up “tactical urbanism” measures. Some paint, planters, bollards, giant rocks and construction barriers could do the trick. In fact, the City already has one of the world’s leading tactical urbanism firms, Street Plans of Miami, in-house as a consultant doing the Crosstown Greenway pilot project. We can institute a program to install parklets instead of car parking and combine this with other measures to slow or close the street. This gives us the opportunity test things out and adjust before we do some big, expensive, infrastructure project. Let’s use the summer and fall to implement some projects on Duval before the next winter season begins at Christmas and get a head start on our future while improving our health.

Resources

View the Plan, video, pictures and more on the Dover, Kohl & Partners Clematis Street project page. If we are looking at upgrading Duval Street, we can learn a lot from this project.
Street Plans of Miami literally wrote the book “Tactical Urbanism.” They’ve already partnered with the City of Key West on the Crosstown Greenway pilot project. Let’s use them to help us close down and slow down Duval Street now too.
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.

A Critic’s Thoughts on Car-Free Key West

By Josh Bassett; June 20, 2020

I know, I get it, I completely understand where your mind goes when you hear it. Friends of Car-Free Key West and Car-Free Key West evoke visions of an island full of bicycles with no cars in sight. I can tell you that this is exactly what I pictured when I first saw these words on my Facebook. My first thought was “How am I going to pull my boat with a bike? Forget these people. Car free, they must be crazy!” I did as most of us tend to do and I went from nothing to high alert in a matter of milliseconds. So, being the rational person I think I am, I ignored all of the stuff that popped up on my timeline from the Car-Free pages.

It was fine for a while but a funny thing happened, I saw an article about the bus routes in Key West and it was written by an acquaintance that I have. Yes, we were “friends” on Facebook but in the real world, we are more like acquaintances. So anyway, I read the article that he wrote, and I get all fired up again, but this time, I didn’t ignore it. I sat down and wrote a message and asked questions. It was a lengthy message with a bunch of questions and, low and behold, he responded and gave me his phone number so he could talk to me about my questions. As it turns out, Car-Free isn’t the intention at all. The vision of Car-Free is just less cars, more expeditious bus routes, giving the people the option of exploring car-free transportation and making it safer for those that take that option. I can honestly say that I received a very good education during that phone call. I was changing my views based on research provided to me, the dedication of a group of people who care, and the fact that I could still pull my boat. I wasn’t a completely changed person, but my mind was more open and I wasn’t as doubtful or bothered by the concept.

Fast forward a few more weeks, and I have now liked the pages on Facebook because I want to see where this is all going. Another article is posted and it strikes a nerve because it is about an area where I grew up and I am familiar with. I’ve seen enough articles posted now and I make a public comment, something along the lines of: It’s time to start showing the vision of what WE will see in Key West and not what other places are doing. My post may have been a bit aggressive, which I eventually apologized for, but it sparked more conversation and another Facebook friend. Yet again, I was educated as to what the idea behind all of this is and this time, I believe it is for good reasons.

In my multiple conversations, with some very dedicated and good hearted people, I’ve come to learn that Car-Free Key West is actually a movement that will also help to revitalize the business district in Key West. It’s a movement to look at injecting more life into our businesses and getting our biggest economic producer, tourists, around our island a bit more safely and efficiently. This is a movement aimed at capturing the island paradise charm of Old Key West and conjoining it a business revitalization project that can accommodate pedestrians and restaurants on our busiest streets.

Before you overreact like I did, I encourage you to look around and see where the downfalls are in our community and bring reasonable ideas to the table. Just saying no or don’t change it, doesn’t help towards the solution. The fact of the matter is, we are ever evolving and as such, our communities have to evolve with the times. I believe that Car-Free Key West and Friends of Car-Free Key West have some great ideas for our community and it’s time we look to embrace the future before it passes us by.

About Josh Bassett

Josh Bassett has been a Key West resident for the past 7 years. He is a retired Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer, a graduate of the CFFK’s Leadership Success Academy, current member and past President of the Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Association, and served on several school boards throughout the country. He is also the current chairperson for a Basilica School fundraiser, Mariners March 5k. 
Josh is a 10th generation Cape Codder, and while his love for the Cape and Massachusetts runs deep, his dislike for winter runs deeper. When he arrived in Key West with the Coast Guard, Josh knew he had found the place that he wanted to call home. Josh and his family love to take advantage of the Keys, from boating and fishing to hiking and biking, enjoying all that Monroe County has to offer is a family adventure. 

Key West #115 in Best Cities for Bikes List

By Chris Hamilton, June 10, 2020

On June 9 People for Bikes released their ranking of 575 communities in North America (567 in the USA) in their Annual 2020 City Ratings for Best Cities for Bikes and Key West came in at #115 with an Overall Score of 1.9 out of 5 and received one out of five stars. Yay! Kinda. Sort of? The highest score was San Louis Obisbo, CA with a 3.5 score. The number five city is Washington, D.C. with a 3.2. Our sister City of Provincetown, Massachusetts came in at #17 with a 3.1 score. Yes, People for Bikes is a hard grader. And they should be because North America still has a long way to go in being really bike friendly.

Note this list is slightly different than the numbers we discuss because it doesn’t include Canadian cities.

Number 115 doesn’t seem like a great ranking. But that’s out of 575 places. So when you have that perspective, its pretty good, right? Then again we do have some natural advantages for biking because we’re warm, flat and compact. So maybe we should be higher, no? And how did PTown do so much better than us, because they certainly don’t have the warm part? Out of 20 Florida cities, Key West ranked number 4 behind St. Pete 2.4, Orlando 2.3, and Gainesville 2.2. Actually, to think of any Florida city, because they all seem so car-dependent, beating out Key West amazes me. Yes, we should be doing better.

Overall City Ratings are shaped by five key indicators: Ridership (how many people are riding bikes?), Safety (how safe is it to ride bikes?), Network (how easy is it for people to bike where they want to go?), Reach (how well does the network serve all members of the community?) and Acceleration (how fast is the bike network growing and/or improving?). These indicators are ranked on a scale of 1-5 and weighed equally to provide a city’s comprehensive City Ratings score. Key West received a 1.9 Overall Score in 2019 and had a 2.1 Overall Score the first year in 2018.

Key West Does Best in Ridership and Reach

The City got a 2.4 Ridership Score and ranked #32 out of 575 communities. Ridership is about how many people are riding bikes. “Studies show that when more people ride bikes, biking is safer and more appealing. The Ridership score takes into account riding for both recreation and transportation. Data Sources: U.S. Census American Community Survey, Sports Marketing Survey Bicycle Participation, and PlacesforBikes Community Survey” This shouldn’t surprise us. We know lots of residents commute by bike and that lots of people use bikes to get around, including visitors. Perhaps this also reflects the fact that we’re warm, flat and small.

Key West also did well on Reach with a Score of 3.0 which ranked Key West at #53 out of 575. Reach is about how well the bike network reaches the entire community. “The Reach score determines how well a city’s bike network serves all members of the community. It uses demographic data to understand differences in ridership and network access for traditionally underserved populations compared to the whole city. Data Sources: U.S. Census American Community Survey and PlacesforBikes Bicycle Network Analysis or BNA”

We’re basically hitting the low hanging fruit by scoring well on these two attributes.

Key West Needs Improvement on Safety, Acceleration and Network

Where Key West needs to do some work has been obvious to most of us for a while. Safety. While we have the natural advantage of being warm, flat and compact, our city fathers have built too much of our street system with a huge preference for cars. The car-centric nature of our streets leads to safety issues and that’s no doubt reflected in our low 1.5 Score for Safety. This score will only improve if we start installing infrastructure such as neighborhood greenways, protected bike lanes and bike boxes and markings through intersections.

Acceleration is about how quickly a community is working to make biking better. “Acceleration is about setting plans into motion, getting things ready for the future and recognizing that changing long-term safety and ridership requires action today. The Acceleration score looks at a city’s current actions to encourage more people to get out and ride.” The dismal Acceleration Score of 0.5 seems a bit low to us but we’ve then again we’ve heard many complain the City isn’t doing anything for bikes. The fact that a Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Transportation Plan was adopted in March 2019 should count for something. Perhaps People for Bikes is looking for evidence of of actual implementation and it is here that perhaps we can do much better. Check out our May 20, 2020 article Key West, Let’s Radically Speed Up the Implementation of Our Bike/Ped Plan for ideas on why it is important and how we can accelerate and get going sooner.

Network is about how easily people can get to where they need to go by bike. “A strong bike network comfortably and efficiently connects people to the places they want to go. People are much more likely to ride a bike in a city with a strong network.” We’ve talked often about the network effect. It is nice to have a good bicycle facility one one street, but unless it connects to other good facilities across the city, then it becomes useless. Network is about a string of protected lanes, trails and intersections all over the place. Not a bike lane here and a sharrow over there. It also means having good wayfinding signage.

Why There’s Hope for Key West’s Future

There’s hope for our improving because with all of our natural advantages it shouldn’t take too much design and intention to make things better. Key West isn’t hilly or sliced up by highways or rivers that cut us off from other parts of town. We’re not sprawled all over the place and our downtown has a grid that is especially conducive to hopping around. And for all the complaints about how hot it is right now, we really do have good weather 12 months of the year. Would you really rather have the weather of Madison, Wisconsin? And they’re ranked #2!

We also have a Bike Plan that was drafted by one of the best firms in the business, had tons of community meetings and input and has been adopted by the City Commission. All we need is a little political will to implement some of the recommendations to move on up the list. We’re hopeful….

Sources and Additional Information

Key West City Scorecards 2018 through 2020:

Key West, Let’s Radically Speed Up the Implementation of Our Bike/Ped Plan

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.

Duval Street Revitalization Moves Forward

By Chris Hamilton, June 10, 2020

The Good

Duval Street Revitalization Moves Forward blared the headline at the top of the page in this morning’s Key West Citizen news story by By Pru Sowers. THIS IS GOOD NEWS. We’ve been talking about the Duval Street Revitalization Study since last fall as the next step after the experiment with the Mall on Duval. That the City got the RFQ out, solicited six firms to provide proposals and is down to the final two is progress. The two firms will make presentations to the Commission at their July 21 meeting that will also be the first to be open to the public again.

The Citizen reports: “The two finalist companies had myriad ideas, including lighting, signage, landscaping, seating and shade. Maintaining the historic nature of the street and buildings while protecting them from sea level rise, encouraging pedestrians and bicyclists while balancing them with all modes of transportation, and providing seating and space for events were suggested.” That and the quality of the two finalists is the good news.

The Bad

The not so good news is that at the moment no one is committing any money to move this forward after a firm is selected. Says the Citizen: “…no one knows yet how much money the city will have in revenues and whether it can afford to hire a design company to begin the multiphased project.”

“I was far more excited when we didn’t have the financial hardships we have right now,” Veliz said about the Duval revitalization proposals. “Right now, I’m just trying to get back on our feet.”

City Manager Greg Veliz

“That’s a question mark right now. We’re in a land of unknowns,” 

Assistant City Manager Patti McLauchlin

The Ugly

“Duval Mall is dead. That term should never be mentioned again. The mall was controversial.”

City Manager Greg Veliz

The Mall on Duval wasn’t perfect but it doesn’t need to be disparaged so, does it?. The Mayor and some City Commissioners were responding to citizen requests for pedestrianizing Duval and came up with a worthy experiment. In fact, as the Mayor and others have noted, the Mall on Duval brought citizens back to the street to eat, shop and drink. And as mentioned in the Citizen article, it was the discussions around Mall on Duval that directly led to the Duval Street Revitalization Study. It served a purpose. Let’s move on.

The Takeaway – We Need to Fund the Study

We are going to look at today’s news as a good thing. But we should be forewarned that City management is already laying the cover for not funding the study in next year’s budget and thus delaying the project. What that means is that us citizens need to be talking to our Commissioners and City management about the importance of investing in doing this study now. If there’s going to be a downtime, it is the exact time we should be investing in the planning effort for the future of our Main Street.

The Coda

If the study is funded and gets started this fall, it could be another year of process before any Duval Street Revitalization Plan is in place. Anything in the plan that will take money, especially big infrastructure projects, could therefore be years and years out into the future. So in the meantime that doesn’t mean we have sit and wait. There are some things we can do now:

And during the Duval Street Revitalization Study about infrastructure we should ask the question: Does Duval Street/Downtown Need a Business Improvement District? to help with its operations?

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.

Does Duval Street/Downtown Need a Business Improvement District?

By Chris Hamilton, June 4, 2020

We’ve recently been making the case and seen lots of public support for putting in parklets to widen the sidewalks, for restaurants and retailers to “take the streets” or even for some semblance of the return of Mall-on-Duval-like activities. It seems a missing element is someone to organize and help the businesses along Duval Street and adjacent blocks to accomplish activities like this.

The City has embarked on a needed “Duval Street Revitalization Study” that will enlist an engineering and planning consultant to help plan the revitalization of the infrastructure or streetscape of Duval. The goal of the Project is to “renovate and revitalize Duval Street to increase opportunities for public use as an iconic civic space for leisure, commerce, and tourism; address the infrastructure which will allow for reasonable maintenance frequency and reduce costs to businesses and taxpayers; improve safety for pedestrians and vehicles; and maintain mobility for desired transit operations for all users.” The Mayor said she envisions improvements including widening sidewalks and adding planters, benches and water fountains. But once we renovate Duval Street, is that enough? Or do we need someone to help the businesses and community take advantage of and operate this improved asset?

(Photo credit for the dining photo: Michael Beattie of the Conch Scooter blog.) The businesses themselves are too busy just trying to run their own operations. These days that’s harder than ever to do. Mom and Pop shops shouldn’t also be expected to figure out how to make all this happen, coordinate with each other and actually do it. While the City should certainly set the table and provide services and capital improvements for one of its most important assets, Duval Street, and they do, should they be expected to do all the work or even more work, especially the activities part? Or should there be some sort of empowered third party organization that can take responsibility for helping small businesses thrive while liaising with and enhancing what the local government does do? There’s actually about 1,000 of these kind of organizations across the U.S.A. They’re called business improvement districts or BIDS. Would it be helpful to have one in downtown Key West? Let’s explore…

Downtown success is becoming widespread. At its heart is a quiet revolution concerning who takes responsibility for the “operations” of downtown commercial areas. Rather than blaming City Hall, hotel operators, theater owners, storekeepers, restaurateurs, service providers, office employers, developers, property owners, and property managers are planning and managing urban services in their neighborhoods.

Larry Houstoun of Larry Houstoun’s Urban Public Spaces & Business Improvement Districts blog

What’s a BID?

According to Wikipedia, BIDS are special commercial districts within a city overseen by a non-profit entity, typically funded by some sort of taxing authority with the money going towards improvements and services within the area. BIDs often rely on other sources of revenue, in addition to the tax assessment, to fund their operations. Services financed by a BID are intended to enhance existing city services, not replace them and/or provide services the city doesn’t do. The International Downtown Association (IDA) says: “A Business Improvement District (BID) is a public/private partnership in which property and business owners elect to make a collective contribution to the maintenance, development and promotion of a commercial district.” Since the 1970’s nearly 1,000 BIDS in big cities (New York City has 76) and small towns across North America have popped up. Wikipedia says “Often, BIDs are formed as a result of property owners in a defined district who seek funding for a variety of services, including governmental services such as cleaning and maintenance, non-governmental services such as marketing and promotion or beautification, and the implementation of capital investments.” As a DOT employee of Arlington County government, I worked closely with six Arlington, Virginia business improvement districts over the years – each one being indispensable to helping its neighborhood thrive.

I got to work with the DC Downtown BID on birthing and branding a brand new downtown circulator bus and with the Crystal City BID on starting bikeshare in Arlington. Both huge undertakings that needed a push, planning and even funding to get the two local governments moving. I witnessed local BIDS do small things like provide ambassadors on the street to welcome people and provide them with directions. They helped small shops with permits and applications. The local BIDS did extra sweepings of the streets and emptying of the trash cans. They sponsored branded benches, bus stops and recycle bins. They provided maps and wayfinding signage. ALL of the BIDS I worked with promoted walking, biking and transit because they knew that was better economically for their small business owners. They directed workers and visitors to long-term parking and shoppers to short-term parking. They fostered farmer’s markets, block parties, movie nights, lectures, gallery walks and first Friday events to promote businesses. And when when of the home teams went to the playoffs or when it was a holiday or special occasion they made sure the street light poles were festooned with flags sharing the moment as a neighborhood. They helped foster a stronger sense of place and belonging.

Typical BID Services

Every business improvement district is different and what they do and offer may change over time. But my experience and the literature on the subject suggests the following are typical business improvement district type services:

  • Supplement maintenance, sanitation and cleaning
  • Supplement security
  • Supplement or provide landscaping
  • Provide welcoming services including “Ambassadors” on the street
  • Conduct research and analyze economic, demographic and psychographic data
  • Provide alternative transportation and parking information and promotion so visitors don’t clog downtown looking for parking
  • Provide unified marketing services and promote businesses
  • Help brand or rebrand a district to impart a new, more positive or unified identity
  • Connect property owners with the right tenants
  • Promote and expand district business activity, thereby creating more jobs and furthering economic vitality or revitalization. A BID, in effect, acts as a localized chamber of commerce
  • Initiate event planning and production – think what Nadene Grossman Orr’s wonderful Key West Event’s does for Fantasy Fest and this is what BIDS do for their members
  • Advocate and promote civic art installations in public spaces or on publicly visible private properties in the district
  • Advocate and lobby on behalf of businesses to City Hall
  • Provide unified wayfinding signage
  • Report potholes, broken streetlights, malfunctioning traffic signals, illegal dumping and other urban shortcomings
  • Foster or generate starts for eventual City programs like circulator buses, carsharing and bikeshare programs
  • Initiate small capital improvements by funding or installing
    • trees and landscaping
    • bike racks
    • benches
    • street furniture
    • parklets
    • public amenities such as bathrooms

The Key West Historic Seaport Kinda Acts Like A BID

Key West already has one BID-like organization. Kinda. The Key West Historic Seaport. While they are a city-agency they have their own income and budget, overseen by their own board of directors. While they are City employees, they have staff that do similar work to other departments but just for the Seaport. As they have their own budget they have their own contractors and even have an almost $350,000 budget to market member businesses and put on events. Check out their web site. So while their marketing firm is asking people to shop and dine at the Seaport, who’s doing that for businesses on our Main street?

Do We Need a BID?

In our humble opinion, yes. Especially since the City sorta runs one already at the Historic Seaport. There isn’t a downtown commercial district in the North America worth its salt that doesn’t have one. Every BID I had the pleasure to work with made its neighborhood a better place and the businesses appreciated that. We’ve noticed many local business owners say they have problems getting permits for sidewalk seating and others don’t know where they’d even begin at the City if they wanted to put in a parklet in front of their business. Others have shared stories of receiving little support when they tried to participate in Mall on Duval. That and there seems to be a different City department for everything. Wouldn’t it be easier to have an advocate? Someone who could help organize things? Our downtown business district is our city’s life blood. If we’re going to invest in its infrastructure, shouldn’t we likewise invest in its smooth operations?

What About the Chamber and Other Organizations?

We have a lot of organizations in Key West that may seem kind of related. The Key West Chamber of Commerce, the Key West Business Guild, the Lodging Association of the Florida Keys and Key West, the Key West Attractions Association, and of course there’s the Monroe County Tourist Development Council or TDC. They all do a fantastic job at what they do. I attend many of their functions. There’s indeed a little overlap, but do any of them specifically look out for and provide the kind of typical BID services we share above to Duval Street businesses? No. That’s not to say one of these organizations couldn’t do if tasked with running a BID. But none of them are providing those typical services to Duval Street at the moment. The creation of any Downtown BID would need to cede to these other organizations what they do best and concentrate on filling in the gaps.

Funding

Architecture professor and Washington Post columnist Roger K. Lewis in an article about How a BID Helps explains “BIDs are financed primarily through a dedicated, add-on BID tax, assessed over and above normal real estate taxes. Only businesses within the improvement district pay the extra tax. Typically the jurisdiction collects the additional BID tax, which is then available to the BID for its budgeted operating costs. However, BIDs are not official government agencies but, rather, function as independent, nonprofit organizations.” The Center for Innovative Finance Support adds “BIDs often rely on other sources of revenue, in addition to the tax assessment, to fund their operations.” I’ve also seen BIDS where the local government, in addition to the services it already provides in the BID Area, gives annual cash matches and allows the BIDS to access the City’s capital budget. There are likely as many ways to finance a BID as there are BIDS.

Crystal City Budget 2020 Budget

Typical BIDS can operate on budgets that are a couple to a few million dollars annually. In New York City the 75 bids average an annual budget of $2 million with a couple of them topping $5 million and a few that have budgets much less. The brand new Flagler District BID in Miami is targeting a $1 million first year budget. In Arlington, VA the Crystal City BID, mentioned above, has a $2.8 million annual budget and a tax rate of $0.043. The Ballston BID has a $1.6 annual budget and a $0.053 tax rate. The Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization has a budget of about $550,000. So you can see there’s quite a range. If there is to be a BID in downtown Key West, its budget would be predicated upon what services were wanted and what money could be made available. It would seem that budgets on the smaller end, may not need much if any tax rate.

Perhaps in Key West there are opportunities for some innovative funding to keep any additional tax or fee burdens low on downtown commercial property owners. The County’s Tourist Development Council (TDC) takes in an awful lot of money annually. Perhaps some of that money could be put to use actually enhancing our downtown’s Main street’s operations rather than some of the money it spends on advertising Key West in general. Making the product they are advertising a stronger place might be a better way of attracting tourists, rather than clever marketing slogans. Just a thought.

What’s Next?

Typically BIDS begin when a group of local business people or a local business organization petitions a City to legally create one. Given that we quickly found 16 Florida BIDS, and there’s likely more, it would seem easy enough to start by asking one of them for assistance. This article is meant as a starting place for discussion. There really needs to be a groundswell from the business people on Duval and adjacent blocks to rally for something like this. It could also come from a champion at City Hall. Or ideally both.

Could the Duval Street Revitalization Study Look Into Creating a BID?

Perhaps the best avenue to approach this subject is via the Duval Street Revitalization Study process. The City has received proposals from two firms and a selection committee is expected to make a recommendation soon. Then the process will begin, perhaps this fall. While the Study is focusing on infrastructure, it seems appropriate that the selected consultant, in consultation with the business community and public, could come up with recommendations and action items relating to a Duval Street or Downtown BID overseeing this enhanced asset too.

Final Takeaway

Now’s the time to learn more, think it through and hopefully have a good discussion about creating a BID during the Duval Street Revitalization Process. Let’s help make that discussion happen.

Chris Hamilton, June 4, 2020

Feature Image (top of page) photo credit Keys Weekly.

Florida Business Improvement Districts

Here are some nearby Florida BIDS: South Miami BID, Winwood BID, (Miami), The Beach BID (Fort Lauderdale), Flagler District BID (Miami), City of Palm Bay BID, Coconut Grove BID (Miami), Lincoln Road BID, Fifth Avenue South BID (Naples), St. Armonds Special Business Neighborhood Improvement District (Sarasota), International Drive BID/TMA (Orlando), Downtown South BID (Orlando), Downtown Orlando Central District BID, Downtown Jacksonville, Downtown Coral Gables BID, Tampa Downtown Partnership, Westshore District Tampa Bay.

Sources for This Article and Additional Information

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.

Can We Pedestrianize Duval and Still Allow Vehicles?

By Chris Hamilton, May 28, 2020

Back in April we shared an article Reimagining Key West – 3 Quick Wins for Revitalizing Duval Street that suggested to get a start on pedestrianizing Duval Street, now during the Coronavirus slowdown, we could install parklets, put in more bike parking and “Slow the Cars Down and Let People Take the Street.” We’ve expanded on the parklets idea (20 Parklets on Duval in 2020), talked a bit more about bicycling (Key West, Let’s Radically Speed Up the Implementation of Our Bike/Ped Plan) and even suggested City of Key West – Let Our Restaurants Take the Streets! Now we’d like to further explore the idea of letting people take the street by slowing the cars.

Photo credit for the above big picture Michael Beattie of the Conch Scooter blog.

The idea of closing Duval Street off to vehicles after a certain time of day has been talked about for decades. To be clear, this would be our preference. People love the idea for obvious reasons, but we often get stuck on the details. Conversations usually devolve into “close the block entirely to cars” or “you can’t do that because…” and so nothing gets done, as there’s seemingly no in-between or compromise way to do this.

When asked what they like most about a city they have visited, almost no one answers: “The cars whizzing by on the streets.” Cultural attractions, the people we meet, walking through the city and gazing at plazas, buildings, and places—these are the things that make a city unique.

Brooks Rainwater, National League of Cities

We give credit to Mayor Johnston and Commissioners Weekley and Kaufman for trying with the Mall on Duval, but even that little 3-block experiment, eventually got smothered by whining and opposition and withered away in a 4-3 Commission vote against extending it any longer.

What about the delivery vehicles? What about seniors, people with mobility or ADA issues that need to be dropped off at the front door? What about taxis, Ubers and Lyfts? What about the hotels and inns with access off of Duval? Good questions, but certainly something we can overcome, if not accommodate, right?

In our previous article we suggested that if we don’t ban cars outright, perhaps we institute a 5 MPH speed limit and simply allow people to walk in the street. We gave the example that Commercial Street in Provincetown, Massachusetts does something similar in their season, during the summer. They have small sidewalks and a narrow street and so they allow people to walk in the street. Notice that in most of these pictures there are indeed cars on the street. But in this case, the sheer number of people forces a vehicle to slow down. There’s people riding bikes too. But if you look at the pictures closely you’ll notice that sometimes the amount of pedestrians makes bike riding uncomfortable and so people are walking their bike. Even though Commercial Street is their main retail and activity street, unless people in cars really need to use it, they try to avoid it, especially in the afternoons, evenings and weekends during the season. It works. No extra police. No infrastructure. People know the nature of the street and everyone adjusts.

Now some people will say Key West is different and unique. We know. Duval Street is wider. Yes. Commercial Street is a one-way street. Yep and Duval is two-way. Provincetown’s a special case. Okay, that’s a given. And this is where our conversations usually get derailed because well, Key West isn’t anyplace else and the powers that be are loathe to try anything from someplace else. We know. We know. We are unique and do things our own way. But there is growing evidence from around the world that people adjust to these types of situations and that it can be done. So why can’t we figure this out in our own Key West way?

“Shared Streets” or “Woonerfs”

This isn’t a new concept. A Woonerf is a Dutch term for a street shared by cars, bicycles and people as equals. Woonerfs are alternately called “Shared Streets.” Although cars are allowed in most — but not all — of the zones or blocks of a Woonerf, they are generally restricted to “walking speed” with the onus of responsibility for safety entirely on the driver. Bikes cede the right of way to pedestrians. Instead of dividing a street with barriers like curbs, sidewalks and bike lanes, everyone uses the street simultaneously and cars are forced to drive slowly. There are things called Slow Streets, but usually those are associated with residential neighborhoods. And these aren’t Complete Streets, which accommodate all users but do so with separate infrastructure or lanes for pedestrians, bikes and vehicles.

In speaking of a woonerf, “They’re designed to allow cars but they aren’t designed for cars. Cars have to behave themselves in a different way.”

Stan Eckstut, the lead architect in a huge Washington, D.C. project called the Warf in an article about it’s growing use in North America

The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) just came out with a free guidebook Streets for Pandemic Response and Recovery that compiles emerging practices from around the world and includes implementation resources for cities and their partners. This offers us a how-to-guide for quick implementation of these ideas over the course of the summer and fall, so that by the season, we’re more prepared to provide visitors and residents with a safe experience.

So perhaps in Key West on Duval and some adjacent streets we:

  1. set the speed limit at 5 MPH,
  2. get rid of on-street parking so people aren’t coming down the street looking for it (up to one third of traffic are people looking for a parking space),
  3. ban cars outright on a few blocks at certain times of day, thus alleviating people trying to traverse the entirety of Duval for a sight seeing adventure and giving a few blocks that want it, more of the “Mall on Duval” experience,
  4. not allow cars on one side of the street on some blocks to allow retailers, restauranteurs, and artists to use the space and have vehicles go around these,
  5. discourage through traffic. If you come down the block it is because you are making a delivery, dropping off or picking up passengers or you are going to a specific destination that has off-street parking or needs access on that block (like a hotel),
  6. encourage private and public parklets in former parking spaces,
  7. install temporary barriers, barricades and signs that make it clear you are entering a Pedestrian Zone and to block or protect temporary seating and displays,
  8. educate visitors, residents and workers that this area works this way.

Business can work with City staff to come up with a quick plan. It is important that at this point there be no City fees attached to this. It would help if Duval Street had a business improvement district to oversee this, but that’s the subject of a future story.

Is this a perfect solution? No. Is it a compromise? Yes. But in the face of the seemingly all or nothing conversations we’ve been having for decades on closing Duval Street to cars, perhaps this can be a start for discussion. We wouldn’t need to do much planning nor infrastructure improvements to implement this. Doing these things wouldn’t have to be permanent, so if we want to reconfigure the street in the future, we can change things. Duval Street is something that should bring us all together. The idea is to do it quickly, over the summer and fall, get a win and feel good about doing something that will be more healthy and prosperous in response to this Coronavirus mess. Repaving Duval Street was a nice start. Now let’s make it for everyone, not just cars.

Sources for this Article and Additional Resources

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. 

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Chris Hamilton
Chris Hamilton

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

Is Staples Bike Bridge Safe?

Is the Staples Avenue Bike Bridge safe?

June 12 UPDATE: We received a nice call today from Steven McAlearney the City’s Director of the Department of Engineering about this story. He assured us that they wouldn’t let people ride on the bridge if it was unsafe. He rides the bridge often himself. He said the bridge should be good structurally for some years into the future, especially given the weight of a few people at a time isn’t much. But based upon the photos he’s having a professional go under the bridge and give it a closer look. That should happen within the week. As a result they may need a little touch up to extend the life. He promised to let us know the results.

He also said that the Community Services Department had the bridge slated for replacement in their capital budget plan. It was slated to be replaced in the coming 2020-21 budget year but will be pushed back to further out due to looming budget cuts as a result of Coronavirus slowdown.

May 27, 2020. NOTE: As a result of the story and follow-up the City Engineer is going to have this checked out. We’ll let you know what the City finds.

By Chris Hamilton, April 30, 2020

A local kayaker asks this question while sending us these pictures of rotting metal on the bridge. We need to take care of this vital asset because:

  • hundreds and hundreds of people use it every day
  • geography makes it is the only link between downtown and New Town/ Stock Island that keeps bicycles off of less safe, car-centric N. Roosevelt Boulevard and Flagler Avenue
  • it is part of the Crosstown Greenway that safely connects bicyclists with downtown and points north

We’ll ask our friends at City Hall to look into this and get back to you.

We need to do all we can to make sure:

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.