Letter: Island businesses will suffer

Dear Editor:

The City of St. Augustine is planning a major change to the traffic pattern within the historic district which could have disastrous effects on the traffic flow onto Anastasia Boulevard.

We only have to review the poor traffic conditions over the last 5 years to realize how important traffic is for our success.

As paraphrased from some of our City leaders — the Commissioners and staff are developing plans to reduce the flow of through traffic traveling along San Marco Boulevard, Avenida Menendez and across the Bridge of Lions.

Specifically, they want the “pass through traffic” removed from the downtown area and shifted onto SR-312. Take note: less traffic across the Bridge means less business to the businesses on the east side of the Bridge.

This reduction in through traffic will be accomplished by reducing the road capacity between Ripley’s Believe-it-or-Not and the Bridge; while providing more operating convenience to the horse carriages, eliminating bayfront parking and expanding the bayfront walkways.

The program is called “Reconnecting the Castillo de San Marcos and the Bayfront.” On the surface, the program is an attempt to reconstruct South Castillo Drive and Avenida Menendez to provide a better connection between the City, the Castillo and the bayfront.

However, the underlying purpose is far different.

The program is one more step in moving the downtown historic area into a “walking city” serviced by horse carriages and trolleys. Granted, if implemented, it will force more tourists to park in the City parking garage. Whether that is good for the downtown businesses is debatable, however, it is not good for those businesses outside the downtown. We rely on steady flow-through traffic from both the tourists and local residents.

The commentary from our leaders is threatening and their intent is clear!

After reconstruction is completed, the reduced capacity and increased traffic congestion will intimidate both tourist and local traffic. “Through traffic” will travel on US-1 to circumvent the downtown area, then, use SR-312 to get to the Island and further south. Or, to reverse the flow, exit the Island and travel north — again on US-1 around the city. Both directional flows will avoid Anastasia Boulevard. Nice idea but not overly practical.

Remember, there are only three direct entry-exit road systems into St. Augustine.

According to Halback Design Group, King Street and South Castillo Drive/Avenida Menendez each service 17,000 cars per day into the downtown area (the foot of the Bridge).

The San Marco/Avenida Menendez corridor is the major entrance to the Bridge and Anastasia Island from the north.

If we restructure the road system to force through traffic around the city, we have critically impaired the customer base for the entirety of Anastasia Boulevard.

Do you really believe someone will travel around the City, cross the 312 Bridge, then travel back up Anastasia Blvd to visit the stores and businesses? Do you believe someone from the south will want to travel north along Anastasia Boulevard when the City leaders have stated their intent is to discourage traffic from passing through the City?

The effort to improve the Castillo de San Marcos and the bayfront is nice in concept. The real problem lies in the after-effects.

Halback Design Group has requested your comments regarding the options they have proposed. However, the proposed options have focused on a single tree and have failed to look at the forest. The program study was flawed from the beginning because the outcome was both desired and predictable. I believe the study was engineered to support the desired results, which is not a study to improve traffic!

According to the St Johns County Property Appraiser’s office, there are more than 125 property owners on Anastasia Boulevard, of which almost 100 are business owners. Within those properties are professional tenants who survive on a steady flow of traffic.

We must protect our properties and our businesses. I don’t want my tenants suffering because the traffic has moved south. Just look at Vilano Beach and the disastrous effect of moving the Vilano Bridge one block.

Specifically, I believe it is best to keep the road system as it is with the following modifications and suggestions.

• Keep two lanes of traffic southbound and northbound on South Castillo Drive and Avenida Menendez.
• Widen the sidewalk on the north/east side of South Castillo Drive (Castillo property) for pedestrian traffic.
• Keep parallel parking on both the east and west side of Avenida Menendez. Businesses on Avenida Menendez need parking just as we need traffic.
• Lengthen the left turn/stacking lane for southbound traffic on Avenida Menendez onto the Bridge (take it back to Hypolita Street).
• Move all carriage parking and operations from the eastside of Avenida Menendez.
• Change the routing of the carriages during the peak hours of traffic to remove them from Avenida Menendez and South Castillo Drive. Carriages shouldn’t be the #1 priority along Avenida Menendez.
• Do not construct any walkways, etc., seaward of the Avenida Menendez seawall. We don’t have the money and the seawall is sufficient.

The businesses along Avenida Menendez and Anastasia Boulevard are the primary recipients of these poor traffic decisions and should have been treated better by Halback Design Group when they decided to only make “general populace” presentations.

We must contact the City and ask them to enhance the traffic conditions on San Marco and Avenida Menendez with the focus on what is best for all businesses.

The carriages are not the priority!

The Halback team has some good ideas — if the intent is to dress up the Avenida. As a business owner on Anastasia Boulevard, my concern is that the “dressing up” will become a degradation of traffic across a Bridge that is already limited in capacity.

Halback will present their recommendations to the City Planning and Zoning Board on January 4th. The final Master Plan, Preliminary Design and Engineering will be created between January 3rd and February 25th.

We cannot wait any longer to present our positions. Please express your concern about degrading traffic across the Bridge, to:
Jeremy Marquis, LEED AP, Project Manager, Halback Design Group, Inc.
Phone: 904.825.6747; Email: jeremy@halback.com


Bruce Maguire
Anastasia Boulevard property owner
St. Augustine

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