The Commissioners Albatross
Bruce A. Maguire
St. Augustine, FL
Riding the horse carriages through the streets of St. Augustine has to be one of the coolest experiences our community has to offer. It is a historical expose of our treasured past as seen through the slow paced moving window only a carriage could provide. The preservation of this unique venue may be one of the few vestiges of our past which can still fit into our fast-paced high tech society.
However, this issue may constitute the single biggest impediment to the existing traffic problem the City faces. When you combine the true impact of the carriages with the lane reduction, the potential for major traffic congestion and slowdowns become a stark reality. The question now focuses on how to continue the horse carriage tradition with positive improvements while simultaneously removing the negative side effects of its operations.
The City has taken the correct initial approach in this analysis. The first element is to remove the carriage parking from the bayfront. The second element is to find the correct fee schedule for the carriages and their operations. The third is to relocate the parking in an area suitable for their operations. Finally, the carriages must be given a traffic pattern which provides their customers with a quality tour while allowing other traffic operations to continue without conflict. That has not been done.
It is obvious that carriage operations on Avenida Menendez and South Castillo Drive during the high traffic daylight hours (before 6:00 pm) is going to cause conflict. The slow moving carriages paired with the slightly faster automobiles will always provoke frustration, lane changing, etc. Therefore, the only solution is to separate the two transportation systems.
The Commissioners answer is to create a special lane for the carriages. That is a nice solution if, and only if there were adequate space available to support both a carriage lane and a state road system. The City of St. Augustine does not have that luxury! Something has to give way for the other to survive.
On the Avenida, the Commissioners are willing to trade 35 critical “gold plated platinum parking spaces” for an overly-expensive travel lane dedicated to 15 horse carriages. On South Castillo Drive, they are trading a critical lane of north bound traffic for a continuation of that same overly-expensive horse carriage travel lane. Furthermore, the City has not justified the high cost of constructing and maintaining such a dedicated lane for minimal activity of a few horse carriages. Not only is this a costly proposal, it is totally unnecessary!
Why not change the routing of the carriages? Keep the carriages, but let’s be practical. They do not need to be on the Avenida or South Castillo Drive between 9:00 am and 6:00 pm. They can give high quality tours through the streets of St. Augustine without strolling down the Avenida during peak periods of high traffic (remember the spike). After 6:00 pm, traffic is reduced and the carriages can provide the romantic rides down the Avenida as the tourists want.
In its initial mission statement, the Reconnecting the Castillo to the Bayfront project was offered to make improvements to the bayfront and A1A in time for the City’s 450th Commemoration in 2013-2015. However, this grant funding has the potential to provide capital funding for improvements to the bayfront and A1A, leaving improved connections between downtown and the Castillo – bayfront for the community’s benefit long after the celebration.
Bruce Maguire is a life-long resident of St. Augustine and Green Cove Springs. He graduated from the University of Florida where he was awarded a Bachelor’s Degree and Master’s Degree in Business, with a specialty in Real Estate, investments and planning. Following 21 years in the Air Force as a fighter pilot, Mr. Maguire retired at the rank of Lt. Col. and returned to St. Johns County. He served four years as a County Commissioner, presiding as Chairman for one year. During the four years, he represented St. Johns County on the North Florida Regional Planning Council and the Metropolitan Planning Organization. He was appointed by the Governor to serve on the 2010-2020 Florida Transportation Plan development board. He currently owns and operates several businesses within the community.
Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News contributed photograph