Auto(reduction)motive

A “Car-free Key West,” that’s just crazy talk – or is it? In a series of stages, the City of Key West Planning Department, under the direction of Thaddeus Cohen, will be rolling out the new ‘Car-free Key West Campaign.” At Wednesday night’s city commission meeting, Key West citizens got a first glimpse of the plan to help cure what ails us: traffic, traffic, and traffic.

James Udvardy of South Florida Commuter Services and Omi Diaz of Diaz Cooper Advertising outlined in detail how residents and tourists will be provided with a new way to get around Old Town. South Florida Commuter Services, originally started by FDOT, specializes in helping communities reduce traffic congestion.

The first change will be an inner city bus route coined the “Duval Loop.” Five new brightly colored blue and pink buses will soon be unveiled — paid for by FDOT. The buses will run during off season Thursday to Sunday every 15 minutes from 8 a.m. to midnight on a continual one way loop down Whitehead, up Duval, up Fleming, crossing over Grinnell and down Caroline Street back to Whitehead. During peak season, the buses will run seven days a week. The only setback to getting the bus loop started is hiring drivers.

“We are looking for qualified part-time and full-time drivers in order to get this going,” Cohen said at the meeting.

Diaz is working “to encourage locals and visitors to use alternative transportation.” There will be a major advertising push in local media promoting the campaign. First and foremost, tear-away maps will be distributed for the bus loop as well as maps with safe bicycle routes around all of Key West, including safety tips. Also, there will be a Car-free Key West Facebook page, and soon a mobile app for smartphones, as well as a website for more information. The media push will stretch far and wide, from ferry terminals, to airports, to hotels and bike shops, in hopes tourists will keep their cars parked or opt out of one altogether.

“The campaign has garnered immense support from all the Business Associations such as Lodging, Guild, Chamber and Attractions,” said Chris Hamilton, the city’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator. “We have huge support from FDOT, who is providing $400,000 in technical assistance for marketing and branding.” The bus service will be run by the city with funds from the raised parking rates. Hamilton also noted the program is in the beginning stages, and the planning department will be open to making revisions to the maps and routes over time.

The proposal was not met with unanimous approval. Commissioner Sam Kaufman voiced concerns about traffic infrastructure as whole. “I am worried this is a piecemeal approach because we aren’t addressing ride sharing (Uber) or safer streets for our kids,” said Kaufman. “I am afraid the loop may not be successful because we don’t have everything in place and we’re years away from it.”

Officials in the planning department acknowledged Kaufman’s concerns and said they are working to educate people and promote a car-free culture in Old Town. Furthermore, Cohen added that beginning in March, “We will begin to design a bike master plan and are working on a bike-share program.” Regardless, the car-free proposal further magnifies an increasing demand for ride-sharing services in Key West as both items take center stage this spring.

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