By Chris Hamilton, May 20, 2020
Why this information is so hard to come by, we don’t know. But Key West Transit has ditched the old, meandering, hard to understand Red, Orange, Blue and Green Routes (Yay!) and replaced them with two simplified North and South routes that intersect with the “
Free and Frequent” Duval Loop. While the routes are simpler to understand, with only 10 trips in and 10 trips out per day, the frequency is still rather dismal at about one and a half hours between trips. Less on weekends.
We hope the frequency issue is temporary, but there isn’t any information on the Key West Transit or City website indicating what’s happening and what’s next. We’ll try to find out and keep you informed.
Please read our story Reimagining Key West Transit and find out the bright future for getting around the island by bus and why we think we need to speed up that plan this summer/fall. Below you’ll find the new routes and schedules.
By Chris Hamilton, May 20, 2020
More People Are Bicycling at the Moment
If you’ve been on a bike during the last two months you know how easy and safe it is to get around our beautiful little island without all those cars clogging things up. Bike shops report upticks in new bike purchases and people coming in for repairs. To get some exercise whole families are doing loops around the island, especially along the South Roosevelt Bike/Ped Promenade. Stories abound in our little town and cities across the country about people rediscovering the joys of bicycling for exercise AND for just getting around. One June 1 as everything starts to open up again, will we simply go back to our old car-centric ways? Will people be afraid to keep using their bikes as the cars come back?
It’s About the 50% Who Are “Interested But Concerned”
There’s an axiom in bike planning circles that categorizes people into four generalized typologies in regards to bicycling as follows:
1) “Strong and Fearless:” People willing to bicycle with limited or no bicycle-specific infrastructure
2) “Enthused and Confident:” People willing to bicycle if some bicycle-specific infrastructure is in place
3) “Interested but Concerned:” People willing to bicycle if high-quality bicycle infrastructure is in place
4) “No Way, No How:” People unwilling to bicycle even if high-quality bicycle infrastructure is in place
The numbers vary by city but generally there’s consensus that about half the population would be willing to bike if they perceived it were safer and easier to do so. These are the people that have likely been coming out and biking lately. So how do we address their concerns and get more people to use a bike and bike more often once all the cars return?
Picture a Better Future
Picture it. Clearly marked separated and protected bike lanes, greenways or bike boulevards, and off-street paths connect throughout the city, forming a seamless, uninterrupted network of bicycle facilities allowing safe travel through and around the island for everyone of all ages and abilities. Signs show bikers and walkers where they are and how to get to their destination. Bike boxes at busy intersections create space for bicycles ahead of the cars. Ample bike parking is found within a block of all work, shop and play destinations. Wider sidewalks in busy downtown areas, intersections with bump outs and mid-block crosswalks, traffic calming to slow the cars, and places for people to sit, watch, chat and eat in more places. This is the vision the Key West Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Transportation Plan paints for our future.
Key West is Bike-Friendly Because It’s Warm, Flat and Small
As one of Key West’s preeminent bike advocates consistently says, the island is warm, flat and small, so our focus should be on getting more people to bike, because that’s cheaper than accommodating cars and ramping up transit. We agree. Key West is already a bike-friendly city for some of us. According to the U.S. Census Bureaus’ American Community Survey, an average of 15 percent of Key West residents bike to work, making the City the 3rd in the nation for bike commuting in 2013. An additional 7.5 percent of the population walks to work. But the comparatively good statistics are mostly because we’re compact, flat and have good weather, not particularly because of any amazing bicycle facilities on the ground. Imagine how many more people would bike – residents, workers and visitors – If we had some world class facilities here? What would it look like if we could get more of those 50% in the middle, who don’t find it easy and safe to bike around, to do so.
We Have a World Class Bike/Ped Plan Already Done
We could start by implementing more of the measures in the City’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Transportation Plan and spending some real money on this stuff. We spend a tens of millions of dollars on cars and transit and virtually nothing on biking in the City and County budgets. Which is kinda nuts when you think of all the upside that bicycle facilities bring. And they can be quicker, easier and less expensive than building for cars and transit.
The Plan adopted by City Commission in March of 2019 is an amazingly straightforward blueprint to make Key West the bicycling paradise it should be. The Plan’s consultant, is one of the foremost planning firms of its kind in North America, Toole Design Group, There’s a field assessment of what’s out there on the streets about what works and what doesn’t work. There are reams of data on what people think and want and what would motivate them to bike more.
To the plan’s credit it includes a Multimodal Connectivity chapter that looks at larger policies and community goals and puts the bike and walk actions in context of traffic, parking, transit and other modes. It addresses the need for safety education and marketing. It presents a vision of the future and breaks down bicycle and pedestrian network recommendations into short, medium- and long-term actions. It includes a section on Complete Streets, best practices, evaluation, funding and maintenance. In short, all City staff have to do is pick up the document and go through it step by step.
The Plan’s Had Tons of Public Input, Been Vetted and Is Commission Approved
The City’s consultant undertook painstaking field assessments and data collection to undergird its recommendations. You’ll find maps of crash data and maps of barriers to biking and walking. They then vetted the data and ideas with multiple online, email and in-person surveys, public meetings, outreach at community events, public bike rides, boards set up around the island at shopping centers, intercepts along the trails and streets and further meetings with city officials, commissioners and stakeholders – including a citizen Project Advisory Team and the City Commission’s Parking and Alternative Transportation Group. They even had an interactive online map so citizens could pinpoint trouble spots and sketch out solutions. And then for good measure more public meetings. This plan has been thoroughly vetted and is ready to go.
With Tactical Urbanism, We’ve Shown Progress
The City has already shown progress by dipping directly into the Plan and bringing forward the Crosstown Greenway Project (Staples/Von Phister bikeway) that got underway this past fall and winter. Kudos go to the City’s Transportation Coordinator for securing grant monies from and working with the legendary Miami firm Street Plans (they wrote the book Tactical Urbanism) on the project to test out selected design strategies using low-cost, temporary materials for new crosswalks, traffic circles, pavement art, and wayfinding to elevate bicycle and pedestrian priority along the corridor and slow the cars and prevent cut through traffic. This project, which should be on the ground in the coming months, helps demonstrate that there are tactics for getting things done sooner than later.
We Can and Need To Move Even Faster
So why aren’t we speeding up more elements of the Plan from bicycle parking to bike boxes to signs? Why aren’t we using the break in traffic the Coronavirus brought to sweep in and get going today on the low hanging fruit? Why can’t we use more temporary or “tactical urbanism” measures to make it even safer and easier this summer and fall before things get back to full swing?
If implemented, could we in one year double the number of work trips within the City made by bike to 30%? The Census is only measuring Key West residents (half of Key West workers live outside the City in Monroe County and those living beyond Stock Island likely drive – another story) so no one lives more than four miles from work. 30% on a small, flat and warm island seems achievable and worthy in going after.
This shouldn’t just be the City’s Transportation Coordinator’s job. It is too big and too important. Department heads and teams of people should be responsible for implementing. Especially since the City doesn’t have a formal transportation department but rather siloed transit, engineering, parking, planning and community services/public works groups. The Mayor, Commission and City Manager should make it everyone’s job to build out the Plan and make the City more bike-friendly and we need to hold them accountable for doing so.
An island that is safer and easier for more people to bike and walk would be healthier, more equitable, cleaner for our environment, combat climate change, increase prosperity for local business, and would make us happier too. Lots of people already bike and walk by default in Key West because our island is flat, small and warm. But if we are going to get more people to bik,e that is going to be because we make it safe and easy by intention and design. There are many low-cost action items included in the plan and those items should be prioritized to be completed now. And where there is a cost associated with substantial infrastructure changes, we must think of these costs as an investment in our future. All we need is the will to take this excellent document and get going. Now!
Let’s go Key West!
…Or why reforming our parking practices will lead to less congestion and more open streets that can be used by people instead of just cars…
By Chris Hamilton, April 30, 2020
In instituting a new fare for visitors using the “Free and Frequent” Duval Loop bus service, the Mayor said “We’re in some very strange and unusual times right now. We’re going to have to make some unprecedented decisions.” Taking her and her fellow Commissioners at their word, we ask them then, to turn their attention to managing our parking supply fairly. There are approximately 3,000 on-street parking spaces in Old Town below White Street. About 1/3 of these spaces are metered, 1/3 are marked Residential and 1/3 are unmarked. Residential Permits can be had for $20 annually or $0.05 cents per day. The unmarked spaces are FREE. That means two thirds of downtown’s public, on-street parking spaces are virtually FREE. And the metered-spaces are priced too low.
In addition, City and County employees are provided free parking downtown and people with those $0.05 cents a day Residential Permit Parking passes can park FREE for four-hours in many close-in City and County lots and the beaches. What’s the result of all this under-priced parking?
Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.Yogi Berra
Traffic and parking congestion is the result. It ruins everything. In a citizen survey, 58% of residents named erosion of quality of life as the top concern regarding changes in Key West, and traffic congestion ranked number one among residents’ quality of life concerns (Harris and Harris 2004). In a City-sponsored survey in 2015, traffic was ranked the number three “biggest issue” on the island, behind affordable housing and cost of living. We often hear residents lament something along the lines of the the old Yogi Berra saying in referring to downtown Key West. “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” They don’t want to go out to eat or a movie or shopping because they perceive it’s too crowded. The streets are too congested. It’s too hard to find parking. There are too many cars. Many people don’t consider alternatives because they perceive all that traffic and parking congestion makes it less safe and easy to bike downtown. And our City bus system is in need of a radical overhaul if we expect people to actually use it. So why do we have so much free and nearly free parking? Why are we making it so easy to drive when it just makes downtown too crowded to want to go to?
If we want to make a dent in traffic and parking congestion we need to apply the right parking strategies. We must manage our community’s parking to its maximum. We can’t give it away or subsidize it (under-price it), as this exaserbates congestion AND works against people using alternatives to driving.
Some Reasons for Right-Pricing Parking
When you have a scarce resource like parking spaces and you have a lot of demand for that resource, the best way to manage that is to price it properly. It’s a simple economic principal.Matthew Roth, Streetblog.org
Discourage Cruising for Free On-Street Parking
When a city undervalues parking by providing free, nearly free, and under-priced metered parking, many people think like George Costanza, and always believe if they just try hard enough, they’ll find a spot. When you undervalue street parking it encourages driving and causes congestion. Research indicates that in some congested downtowns up to 1/3 of cars are cruising for under-priced curb parking. This cruising causes congestion and pollution.
“A surprising amount of traffic isn’t caused by people who are on their way somewhere. Rather it is caused by people who have already arrived. Our streets are congested, in part, by people who have gotten where they want to be but are cruising around looking for a place to park.” says Parking Guru and UCLA Professor Donald Shoup in this article: Cruising for Parking.
Encourage Turnover for Retail
Metered parking should be tailored to encourage turnover in retail areas to help merchants. People who want to park for longer periods should be directed to long-term parking lots. Consider that metered parking reflect location and time of day/week/season. For example, metered parking one block from retail shouldn’t be the same price as metered parking three blocks away. Likewise, parking rates Christmas through Easter should be higher than in the off-season. Right-pricing metered parking is a science according to Donald Shoup. So what’s the right price for curbside parking? According to the professor and author of The High Cost of Free Parking, “the right price is the lowest price you can charge and still have one or two spaces available on each block.” He says the sweet spot for pricing meters is where 85% of parking spaces in a given area, at a given time, are occupied or one or two open spaces per block. If the spaces are always full or empty than you’ve missed the mark.
In our case, people visiting downtown look for either an unmarked free space or if they have a Residential Parking Permit, they can look for those too. The problem is, close-in residential streets are where everyone wants to find this free parking. This makes it very difficult for those who live in the core to park in their own neighborhood, let alone their own block or in front of their home. Likewise when we under-price metered parking, it encourages people who should be using long-term lots or even could be using the bus or biking, to drive and park for work. This doesn’t help retail, restaurants and attractions.
Encourage Visitors to Park in Long-Term Lots and Keep Em There
According to a 2019 Study published in the Journal of Transportation Demand Management at the University of South Florida entitled “Toward Car-Free Key West” by Mary Bishop, 82% of visitors to Key West arrive by vehicle, either their own or a rental. The same study referenced the Key West Chamber saying there were 2.7 million visitors to Key West in 2015. In answering the question “How did you get to the Keys for this trip?” in a 2018 TDC Visitor Profile Survey overnight visitors said: 35% by personal vehicle, 28% rental vehicle, 10% fly into Miami and rent a car for a total of 73% by car. Twenty-three percent (23%) flew directly into Key West Airport, 1.5% into Marathon Airport and 1.5% came by tour bus. A Visitor Volume and Spending study from the same year said there were 2.6 million visitors to the Keys and 2.16 million of those were overnight visitors.
However you slice and dice the data, THAT’S a lot of cars on our little island. Overnight and day visitors, like George Costanza, prefer to find free parking. Many of our downtown hotels, inns and B&Bs don’t provide adequate parking. So faced with a choice of hunting for those elusive 1,000 unmarked free spots downtown or paying upwards of $20 a day or night for parking, it isn’t surprising that many overnight and day visitors choose to try and park in the neighborhood. The only solution to direct them toward long-terms lots is to take that choice away (#4 below).
Fairness and Equity
Former New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn said: “Streets are some of the most valuable resources that a city has, and yet it’s an asset that’s largely hidden in plain sight.” Streets and sidewalks take up 25 to 50 percent of a typical U.S. city’s land. New York City, for example, is on the lower end of that scale at 28 percent and Chicago (42 percent), Washington D.C. (43) and Portland, Oregon (47) are at the higher end. I wish I could figure out Key West’s percentage but it is likely in this range. Is it fair that so much of our community’s valuable asset is provided so cheaply for the sole purpose of providing car storage for people who can afford to own and maintain cars? Simply put, the answer is no.
Providing parking isn’t free. And no, the gas tax you pay doesn’t cover the cost of maintaining our roads. General taxes on everyone pay as much or more. The cost of land, pavement, street cleaning, and other services related to free parking spots come directly out of tax dollars (usually municipal or state funding sources). Each on-street parking space is estimated to cost around $1,750 to build and $400 to maintain annually. In a place like Key West, the cost is likely higher because this doesn’t include the cost of the real estate underneath the asphalt. “That parking doesn’t just come out of thin air,” Shoup says. “So this means people who don’t own cars pay for other peoples’ parking. Every time you walk somewhere, or ride a bike, or take a bus, you’re getting shafted.”
It’s a Wasteful Use of Valuable Land
According to Zillow the average value of real estate in Key West is $692 per square foot. We realize that real estate downtown around Duval Street is worth even more, but we’ll be conservative here. Say that typically on Duval, half of that value is for the land or $346 per square foot. A typical parking space is 160 square feet (20″ x 8″). Do the math. That parking space is worth $55,360. Would you give this away free or underprice it? How would you price the value of something we say we want less of?
Additional Revenue for Transportation Alternatives
While not the main goal of right-pricing parking, it will bring in additional revenue. A good portion of that additional revenue should go into the City’s Transportation Alternatives Fund that provides things like the Duval Loop, the Transportation Coordinator’s salary, bicycle racks, bus stop signage, protected bicycle lanes, wayfinding signage and more.
What We Should Do
The following proposals are meant as a starting point for discussion. Thoughtful people can fine tune the details and numbers, and this is especially true during an economic downtown. But we stand by the thrust of the basic points. We should point out that we aren’t proposing these measures to simply raise revenue. We should do these things because they will improve our quality of life, business prosperity, and environment. The fact that taken as a whole they may raise some additional revenue is a bonus. We should also stress that you need to do all these things together in a coordinated fashion. They work together. They support each other. They build upon each other.
1. Raise the Price on Metered Parking
In most places downtown, $4 an hour is too cheap to price this valuable real estate asset. Especially when the minimum to park in most garages or lots is more. Raise the rates to $5 or more immediately. Vary the prices so that it is more expensive during peak periods of the day and peak times of the year. For the very most convenient spaces, consider using a progressive price structure to favor short-term users. For example, charge $5.00 for the first hour, $6.00 for the second hour, and $7.00 for the next and so on.
Meters Must Be Priced Higher Than Garages/Lots. If the City is considering raising garage and parking lot rates at its facilities, we must remember the on-street metered rates always need to be more than surrounding garages and lots, and that needs to be common knowledge. Otherwise people will want to try and park on the street first and that leads to the Constanza cruising congestion problem.
2. Raise the Price on Residential Parking Permits
$20 for an annual permit comes out to $0.05 cents a day. $0.05 CENTS A DAY! To ease into this how about next year charging $120 for the first vehicle. At $10 a month, this is still a bargain. Charge $250 for a household’s second vehicle and progressively on up. Then raise these rates automatically with inflation.
3. Institute Residential Permit Parking By Zone
Residential Permit Parking is intended for residents to be able to park within a few blocks of their home. Zones should be small and only available to people who reside or have a business within that zone. This is common practice throughout North America.. Wikipedia says “residential zoned parking is a local government practice of designating certain on-street automobile parking spaces for the exclusive use of nearby residents. It is a tool for addressing overspill parking from neighboring population centers such as a business or tourist district. “
In Key West there’s only one Zone. It covers the entire City, including Stock Island. Anyone can purchase this pass for $20 or $0.05 cents a day. The permit allows folks on Stock Island to drive into downtown and use one of those 1,000 on-street Residential Permit Parking spaces for virtually FREE. As long as they like. For people living north of White Street, the only reason to get a pass is to be able to park for 5 cents a day downtown. The people who live in the core are the ones that need a permit to ensure parking near their home. But with 10,000 to 12,000 annual permits out there and only 1,000 Residential Permit Parking spaces, those spaces are hard to come by, especially in season. It isn’t fair to the people who live downtown. Lets just call these passes what they are, Residents Please Drive and Park Anywhere You Like for Free Passes and not pretend to call them what they aren’t. Most people aren’t using them to park NEAR THEIR HOME but they might be using them to park near your home. We often hear the tired argument that “I pay city taxes, so I should be able to park for free anywhere in the City I want.” But if these people lived on Fleming or Thomas Streets, would they really say the same thing? Doubtful.
*If you live outside of downtown, we may have a transitional solution that will ease people into this, so stick with us and read #4 below before you dismiss this.
4. Put Limits on the Unmarked Spaces Downtown
There are about 1,000 unmarked, free spaces downtown. One can park in these spaces for three days or 72 hours before having to move a vehicle. These are the parking spots that the George Costantza’s among us, whether they be overnight or day visitors, look for. Limit the parking in these spaces to a certain number of hours, say 4 hours between the hours of 9 am and 11 pm. Turn more of these spaces over to Residential Parking Permit and more to metered parking spaces.
* Transitional Idea. Say the City went ahead and instituted a Residential Parking Permit By Zone so that people could park near their home. Say further that the City put a 4-hour limit on the 1,000 unmarked spaces downtown, BUT exempted vehicles with any zone’s Residential Parking Permit. Using the voting precinct numbered parking districts above, for example, a person who holds a Zone 1 Residential Parking Permit could park in any unmarked space in the City, including the 1,000 unmarked spaces downtown. So instead of competing with homeowners for their spaces, they are competing with visitors but have just as many spaces to choose from. The sign in the picture below could say, for example, “4-Hour Parking, 9 am to 11 pm, Except Vehicles With Any Zoned Residential Parking Permit.” The Permits would still get you 4-hours free at the beaches and select lots, but would no longer compete with people who actually live on a block. And yes, all the Zones should be the same $120.
5. Make It Easy to Find Long-Term Parking with Better Wayfinding
Direct people to long-term garages and parking lots with better wayfinding signage and marketing before they get to downtown and through downtown, all the way to the destination. This way visitors aren’t hunting all over the place for on-street parking. Even better, coordinate with all the lots and garages and direct people to those less full with dynamic signage. Don’t forget to develop a truck/delivery plan for downtown so it is less congested with delivery and trash and recycle vehicles at all times of the day. Coordinate the merchants and plan the hours.
6. Build a Park-n-Ride Lot on Stock Island and Bus People In
The 10-Year Key West Transit Development Plan calls for expanding the current Key West Transit facility on Stock Island to establish an Intermodal Center with bus transfer facilities and a park-and-ride for personal vehicles and tour buses. The plan calls for busing visitors to downtown every 15 minutes, seven days a week on a free Key West Intermodal Connector bus “allowing the reduction of ever-increasing congestion and parking demand.”
7. Give the Parking Department Additional Resources
In order to do this, we need to better equip our small Parking Department with the resources to to collect better data, do more robust research analysis of the data, do community outreach and ever importantly enforce the rules. And enforcement more than pays for the staff necessary to do these things. So yes, even in a downturn, get more people to do this, it pays for itself.
8. Make It Easier and Safer to Bike, Walk and Take the Bus
Coupled with all of this parking management activity is the knowledge that if we expect more people to switch from driving alone everywhere, we need to radically remake Key West Transit so that all routes resemble the Duval Loop – free, frequent and simple. We need to make it safe to bike everywhere in town by slowing cars down and providing protected bicycle lanes, greenways, trails and lots more bike parking. We also need to make it more safe to walk. We need to slow the cars and give preference to pedestrians on our crowded downtown streets – not cars.
When we right-price our valued downtown on-street parking via these parking management techniques and coordinate them with robust bike, walk and transit alternatives, it makes our streets more efficient and less crowded.
With less cars on our streets we just might get to turn over more of this valuable community asset to encourage more space on our main commercial streets downtown for wider sidewalks for people to sit, chat, eat and people gaze. It doesn’t have to be entire streets. It can be parts of streets or even just parklets. We might be able to turn over more of that asset for protected bicycle lanes and bicycle parking too. Or use it for trees. Even art.
Doing all this will be more friendly to our environment and help combat climate change. It makes us healthier. And happier too. Very importantly it helps local businesses prosper. It will help us build a thriving, vibrant downtown that visitors and residents will be happy to go to because it won’t be perceived as so crowded – with cars – anymore.
The Right Price for Parking. A Streetflims.org article and video.
Parking Management – Comprehensive Implementation Guide; 2 April 2020; by Todd Litman; Victoria Transport Policy Institute
The High Cost of Free Parking. An article and video at Vox.com
Why Free Parking Is Bad for Everyone. An article at Vox.com
Draft 2005 City of Key West sponsored Park Study There’s some good stuff in here.
City of Key West Carrying Capacity Traffic Study, December 2011 – This oft-referenced study measures the City of Key West capacity to “carry” or move and park cars conveniently using measures such as Level of Service (LOS) that are better used on highways, not where people live. No doubt that traffic flow can be “optimized” with better signal timing and the like, but physical improvements to the roads to make it quicker to get in and out and park, is now a thoroughly debunked science in good city planning. This stuff is better left to car-dependent mainland Florida places, not Key West.
By Roger McVeigh
The pause created by the Covid Pandemic offers an opportunity for a whole new restart when Key West Transit comes back. Let’s implement changes now, rather than wait for the future.
An improved, vibrant, frequently used public transit system is vital to our community’s long-term sustainability.
This strategic community asset can be funded primarily from federal and state funding sources. Transportation funding is often dependent on increases in ridership, and a reinvented Key West public transit system will enable residents and visitors to go car-free. More riders means more outside funding which means less tax burden on the residents of Key West.
Enabling residents and visitors to go car-free leads to improvements in the quality of life of all residents, including cleaner air, less traffic congestion, and safer streets for pedestrians, bicycles and all road users.
A successful public transit system will help alleviate our workforce housing and income inequality challenges, making it easier and more feasible for our workforce, to thrive without owning a vehicle, an annual savings of $10,000 per year.
A long-term recommendation from the June 2018 final report of the City Commission appointed Parking and Alternative Transportation Committee group, states: “the City Manager and Public Transit Director should evaluate and overhaul the transit system to create significant increases in ridership through an emphasis on frequency, simplicity, communications and reliability.” Further, the report highlighted key actions needed:
- Expanding Duval Loop to include Truman Waterfront and Higgs/White Street corridor and establishing a North Roosevelt Loop
- Increasing frequency of Lower Keys Shuttle and consolidating local bus routes, freeing up assets to increase frequency on remaining routes, increasing ridership
- Adding free dependable WiFi to all public transit vehicles and providing an education, rebranding, and marketing campaign
Key West Transit used these recommendations in working with a consultant to develop an ambitious and forward thinking 10-Year Transit Development Plan (TDP) that was adopted by the City Commission in November 2019. The TDP represents the community’s visions and goals for transit in Key West and provides the strategic road map for the future of Key West Transit, achieving the goals highlighted above and then some.
The TDP Executive Summary highlights the community’s desire for more frequent and simple service and proposes new local “Loop” and “Connector” routes that achieve this goal by 2021. Change the routes now, before service is restarted. We’ve already got a plan. We just need to implement it sooner.
Key capital, infrastructure, and technology improvements recommended in the TDP including establishing the Key West Intermodal Center (park and ride lot on Stock Island), purchasing smaller bus vehicles, implementing bus locator apps and mobile fare payment systems (unless going fare free), enforcing parking regulations, and expanding marketing awareness. can come later. We may want to consider proposing a quarter to half percent sales tax in Monroe County to to provide funding to repair our long-neglected roads and to upgrade our antiquated public transit system. This approach would shift the burden from local property taxes and homeowners to tourists by funding these infrastructure improvements from the spending by our 4 million annual visitors.
Can you imagine how many fewer cars and the reduction in traffic that would result:
- Free and reliable transit service from Stock Island to Old Town every 15 minutes?
- Service from the Key West International Airport to Old Town every 20 minutes?
- 15-minute Loops downtown, Midtown, and in New Town?
Key West has a hard-working and dedicated transportation department comprising almost 40 transit professionals led by Rod Delostrinos, a military veteran with a background in logistic and a natural leader. Empower Rod and his team by giving them direction, and a modest amount of resources.
NOW! What better time to act than a whole new restart of Key West Public Transit offered by the pause created by the Covid pandemic. City Management and the City Commission can undertake the improvements NOW.
About Roger McVeigh
A 15-year resident of Key West, Roger has been dedicated to public service since retiring in 2006 from a career in public accounting as a Partner with KPMG LLP in Atlanta, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida. He’s a graduate of the City of Key West Ambassador Academy (2007) and the Community Foundation of the Florida Keys Leadership Success Academy (2009). Roger is active in local government and has served as a Board Member and often Treasurer of a diverse group of nonprofit and civic organizations covering education, social services, recreation and the arts, among others. He’s currently serving on the Advisory Committee for the City of Key West Crosstown Greenway Project, the City of Key West Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and the Lower Keys Medical Center Board of Trustees.
Roger hails from Knoxville, Tennessee, attended both Emory University and Georgia State University and received his BBA in Accounting from Georgia State in 1983.Roger lives with his beautiful wife Cindy, and their two chihuahuas, Oreo and Cocoa in Old Town. He loves his adopted home of Key West, enjoys travel, hiking, supporting University of Tennessee Volunteer sports teams, and endurance sports including swim/bike/run events.
Photo Credit KONK Life
By Chris Hamilton, May 6, 2020
With indoor seating for restaurants limited to 25% of capacity, it is time to let our struggling local restaurants take to the sidewalks and streets for customer seating. A 50 seat restaurant is now limited to 13 seats indoors. Who can survive on that? We have a huge public asset in the form of streets that we can use to help during these “strange and unusual times.”
According to the Governor’s guidelines there is no limit on outdoor seating as long as you follow the distancing rules of tables being six feet apart. Outdoor seating will allow restaurants to perhaps get a portion of their capacity back. Let the restaurants use the sidewalks and streets, FREE OF CHARGE, WITH NO PERMITS, to put out tables. While we’re at it, if retailers want to put some displays in the streets, let them. Close portions of Duval Street and the adjacent 400 and 500 blocks that have restaurants, like on Greene, Caroline, Eaton, Fleming, Southard, Petronia and perhaps more.
The Mayor and City Manager should just do this administratively. Now, as restaurants are starting to reopen.
We don’t need wasteful car storage for the privileged few to take precedence over the community’s needs. Ban cars on Duval and these blocks from 4 pm to midnight. Or limit the car-traffic to 5 MPH and one side of the street. Dare we say bring back the Mall on Duval or Duval Street Promenade?
While we are doing this we can use the summer to plan for these same blocks to take over parking areas using parklets, so that by the fall there’s procedures for doing so.
In laying down a fee on visitors using the Duval Loop last night the Mayor reasoned “We’re in some very strange and unusual times right now. We’re going to have to make some unprecedented decisions,” So let’s do just that and get this done now please.
By Chris Hamilton, Tuesday, May 5, 2020; 7:30 pm
With only Commissioners Kaufman and Weekley voting NO, the Key West City Commission voted 5-2 on Tuesday night to impose a $1.00 boarding fee for visitors using the City’s Duval Loop. While not in the published reports, Commissioners had been swayed by the City Manager and Transit Director (IMHO laughable) estimates that the new fee could bring in an estimated $380,000 per year – covering half the cost of running the Loop. Commissioner Weekly was able to get an amendment attached that this issue would be revisited within six months of the service’s restart. All the Commissioners expect Mr. Wardlow voted with that change. So at least we have another try in six months.
This is terribly disappointing news for all the reasons we’ve previously reported. As the Mayor and Commissioner Weekley both noted, there had never been so many people that had used the City’s online eComment to voice their opinion on an agenda item before tonight. All but one of the 28 online written comments opposed the new fare. Despite the unprecedented outpouring against the action, a 5-2 majority voted not to care what the residents thought. (Note the eComments are posted here at the end of the story.)
Both Commissioners Kaufman and Weekley were passionate in their defense of leaving it alone. Mr. Weekley cited the Loop’s success in encouraging visitors to drive less and leave coveted parking spots for locals. Mr. Kaufman also citing the Loop’s amazing success, questioned the timing, asking “What’s the urgency of making this decision now instead of during the budget process. I’d rather talk about the whole transit budget at the same time, why tonight?” In response the City Manager said:
“As you know Commissioner we started the budgetary process yesterday. You know we’re trying, there are so many unknowns in this budget process. I’m like, even this one, we can project a certain amount of money that we anticipate this generating over the rest of this fiscal year and into next fiscal year, but at this point everything’s a guess, we have no idea what sales taxes are gonna be, we have no idea how our tourism economy is going to rebound, there are, yesterday, we are cutting and we’re gonna be and I’ve never been through a budget like this and I’ve sat through a lot of budgets. We’re gonna, our number one goal is to come in as lean as we possibly can and identify as many potential revenue sources as we can. And when talking about what transit looks like going into the future, this obviously came to the forefront, and we thought we’d bring it before you, so I can’t sit here and guarantee you that its gonna generate $380,000, I can’t guarantee its gonna generate $80, its just something we’re looking at as a potential source of revenue going into this year when revenues are going to be really lean and costs are going to be even leaner.”
Mr. Kaufman cautioned that altering the service “could have bigger consequences than we’re thinking about right now.” He also offered that if there’s a decline in ridership and the service is perceived as less successful it will make it that much harder to change other city routes in the future.
Both Commissioners Hoover and Davila seemed to only want to do this as a temporary measure in tough times to help us get by right now. Mr. Davila pointed out he thinks all the bus routes should be free. Something Commissioner Kaufman echoed.
Commissioner Lopez simply said he didn’t see anything wrong with approving it on visitors and didn’t seem as though he’d thought any of this through except that the City Manager asked for it.. The Mayor said “We’re in some very strange and unusual times right now. We’’re going to have to make some unprecedented decisions,” and then voted for the change.
So despite the outpouring of citizen opposition and despite the fact the business and lodging community who depend on it and haven’t been around to participate in the decision, the Commission seemed to want to do something, anything, well, because “unprecedented times” and grab some revenue and perhaps seem like they are doing something. I suppose with everything going on we can expect that. But we have to hope our elected officials don’t succumb to doing things that will hurt our future in the name of expediency because of the Coronavirus. We need to be able to have our eye on the future as we deal with realities today.
By the way, we promise to come back with an article in the future showing how ludicrous that $380,000 revenue projection is. This number seemingly come via 410,000 riders and estimates that 80% of those are visitors, who will then pay $1 for the service.
Tonight’s decision is penny wise and pound foolish. So much for a more walk, bike, transit friendly downtown. At least for now….
Below are screen captures of the record number of eComments that citizens made opposing the new fare. The screen capture was taken Tuesday afternoon and the comments are no longer available on the City’s web site:
Friends of Car-Free Key West‘s Chris Hamilton joins Key West journalist Gwen Filosa on her weekday morning show “It’s Too Early!” on Island 106.9 FM on Monday, May 4, 2020. Gwen and Chris discussed the Duval Loop bus and the City’s proposal to impose a $1.00 fee on visitors using the very successful “FREE and Frequent” downtown circulator bus. Take a listen to a very engaging 30 minutes! You can find Gwen on Facebook here.
By Chris Hamilton, April 30, 2020
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.
- What Benefits Can Cities Expect From Fare-Free Transport, March 11, 2020, Cities Today
- Public Transit Can Be Free, August 24, 2018, Jacobin
- Americans Spend Over 15% of Their Budget On Transportation – These Cities Are Trying To Make It Free, March 2, 2020, CNBC
- Free Public Transport Is Gaining Popularity in European Cities, October 30, 2018, CZ.com
- Should Transit Be Free?, January 28, 2019, Transit Center
- Should Transit Be Free?, Part 2, February 12, 2019, Transit Center
- Who’s Afraid of Free Public Transit, May 25, 2018, NextCity.org
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:
Here’s the link – Note it’s behind a paywall: https://keysnews.com/article/story/reimagining-key-west/
By Chris Hamilton, April 28, 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.