St. Augustine is in the initial phase of a major mobility plan that tackles the big transportation and parking issues throughout the city. The project aims to implement “a holistic solution” for various sectors of mobility throughout St. Augustine that will have lasting effects for years to come. A task force setup to implement the plan is full of big ideas and has residents’ safety on their minds.
The six-part plan includes street networks, land use and urban design, streetscapes, parking, transportation demand management, and a capital improvement plan.
While St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Shaver is a huge proponent for the plan, she raised some questions. “I want this this to succeed,” she said, according to St. Augustine Record. “And it needs to be a data-driven initiative that is transparent.” She also urged the task force members to be as open with the public as possible as to avoid conflicts with residents.
While data collection and initial talks continue, here are three major safety concerns the group should consider when looking to improve our historic city.
St. Augustine’s rich history has always attracted visitors from all over. The city saw a spike particularly in 2010, and ever since tourism continues to increase. Also, with an increase of more than 56,000 St. Johns County residents in the past nine years, this means more cars are on the road. With a spike in car numbers on the road, motorists are at a higher risk of getting into accidents during gridlock situations, for example.
Some locals have asked why studies related to traffic issues in the cities have not been implemented in the past. George Kramer, director of planning for Littlejohn Engineering Associates, the consultant chosen to create the mobility plan, reassured that the plan would be a holistic one and be “focused on implementation.”
City Manager John Regan has said he views traffic as the main priority in the mobility plan as well. With “livability” set as one of its four strategic goals, the task force must find alternative ways to decongest its increasing traffic woes, particularly on busy King Street, during city events that attract major crowds, like the annual Celtic Music & Heritage Festival.
St. Augustine boasts a healthy tourism industry year-round and as such the number of pedestrians has only risen over the years. St. Johns County hotel occupancy reached a record high of almost 71 percent last year, with half a dozen new high-end hotels and resorts set to open in the next couple of years, according to the Florida Times-Union.
With more people in the area and an increase in vehicles on the road, the city should pay careful attention in providing safer pedestrian features while building the mobility plan.
A tour earlier this month down King Street gave officials a firsthand experience of what it was like to be a pedestrian in St. Augustine.Task force member Lisa Lloyd shared memories of enjoying the downtown area while growing up, saying she missed downtown and feels like she avoids it nowadays.
“I would love to have locals feel like we own our downtown and it’s a part of us the way it used to be, instead of a place to be avoided,” she told the St. Augustine Record.
An influx of cars means a growing necessity for parking. One of the solutions proposed by Regan for reducing traffic is providing more parking spaces throughout the city. Parking was one of the most important topics of discussion during the task force meeting.
Comprehensive solutions will take months, but Regan and his team found alternative ways to host the Celtic Music & Heritage Festival in March by providing satellite parking with trolleys to the event — alleviating both traffic congestion and parking troubles. The festival’s president believes that, although expensive, the satellite parking system may work for future events.
Better parking choices also means fewer obstructed views for those drivers turning into intersections and other busy roads where cars are parked against the curb. If a driver cannot see approaching cars because of parked vehicles, they may be prone to an accident when entering an intersection.
The lack of designated parking spaces can also pose a danger to pedestrians and cyclists. Should a car that is parked on the side of the street, for example, pull out, they may be unaware of a passerby — especially in the bustling downtown area. Also, if the task force considers implementing more bike lanes, designated parking spaces away from busy streets could be a great solution that’ll keep cyclists safe, some say.
The task force will discuss and establish guiding principles for all parking dilemmas in August before drafting a framework in September.