Pointing to months like this where there are as many as five or more festivals or parades that qualify as major events, Historic City News listened to pleas from citizens asking St Augustine’s city commission for relief during nearly an hour of public comments Monday night.
Reports of overcrowding, traffic gridlock, personal safety concerns, and disturbances from amplified music all surfaced from residents; both nearby in uptown St Augustine, and further away on SR-16, Vilano Beach, and Anastasia Island.
“Even good music can be a disturbance when it’s blasted through an amplified sound systems on stage,” one Abbott Tract resident commented during the first break, two hours into the meeting. “I happen to be of Irish descent, but after a full day of parades and clans and celebrating, I’m ready to go home and get some sleep. Not this weekend.”
Another nearby resident, Nancy Noloboff who has lived in St Augustine for forty years, commented on what started as a way to attract tourists to see the Nights of Lights during a slow tourist season twenty-three years ago. She says that St Augustine is being marketed as a tourist destination — at the expense of our community.
By the end of February when the Nights of Lights finally go off and the residents can exhale, Noloboff, whose home is on Locust Street, points out that the three-day Cathedral Festival, Seafood Festival, St Patrick’s Day parade, Celtic Festival, Minorcan Celebration, Old Town art show, Blessing of the Fleet, and the Easter Parade are all lined up, back to back in rapid succession, with music, rides, fireworks, and all of these events take place within one month.
City Manager John Regan reported that the city has hired a mobility consultant to advise on possible options for satellite parking, uses for Francis Field, pedestrian and bicycle management, how best to use the multi-modal Historic Downtown Parking Facility, and addressing the already known and studied frequent traffic backups on our overcrowded streets. Heavy sighs from the audience.
Many who attended Monday night, and Historic City News readers who have communicated their concerns to us by e-mail seem to think the City suffers from “analysis paralysis”.
One such reader and frequent contributor to Historic City News, St Augustine North Davis Shores association president, Susan Rathbone, did a quick review of traffic-related studies completed in the recent past.
She identified twenty-five right away whose conclusions all seemed to offer a common recommendation:
1. 450th Commemoration Master Plan, COSA
2. Bayfront to Castillo Plan, National Park Service
3. Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, CoSA 2010
4. City Budget Workshop, CoSA
5. Colored Pavement Standards, FDOT
6. Commuter Rail Study, Jacksonville Transportation Authority
7. Comprehensive Plan, CoSA
8. Entrance Corridor Design Standards, CoSA
9. Heritage Sign Project, CoSA and FDOT
10.Historic and Archeological Resources, CoSA
11.Mapping GIS Library, CoSA
12.Parking Inventory, CoSA
13.SR 5A Traffic Study, FDOT
14.SR A1A Scenic Highway, FDOT
15.Straight Line Diagrams, FDOT
16.Tourism Information, St. Johns County Visitor’s Bureau
17.Traffic Data, FDOT
18.Traffic Circulation and Parking Master Plan, 1995
19.Transit Development Plan, St. Johns County 2011
20.St. Augustine’s Parking and Traffic Committee Master Plan, 2003
21.St. Johns County Transit Development Plan, St. Johns County
22.Transit Greenway Plan, CoSA 2000
23.US 1 Mobility Investment Strategic Plan, FDOT
25.Lighthouse Park Traffic Study, CoSA
Of the studies listed above a majority of them recommended satellite parking, a tram system, park-and-ride lots and adjusting the openings of the Bridge of Lions. The common theme was reducing the number of vehicles in the city; all vehicles, whether owned or rented, driven by residents, tourists, or students. Only one of those proposed enhancing parking at Lightner Museum, which would defeat the goal of reducing the number of vehicles.
“This city, gravitates toward studies and hiring consultants, but never moves beyond that,” Rathbone said. “The problem isn’t knowing what the issues are or gathering data through studies, it is actually implementing the recommendations by the numerous professionals that have already made them.”
Susan says that she is frustrated because we simply do not advance.
“Imagine if we had used the money we spent on these studies toward actual improvements, where we would be?” she asked rhetorically.
Regan says that he has already called for plans and is challenging city departments to have improved measures in place in time for the Independence Day weekend, arguably the busiest weekend, both day and night, for the jam-packed downtown restaurants, merchants and attractions.