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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Hamilton is founder of the local advocacy group Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown. He’s a native of the District of Columbia, where for a couple decades+ he led nationally renowned efforts promoting transit, bike, walk and smart growth 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.

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