Sunday, October 25, 2009

For discussion: Traffic on Pine Avenue

If you apply for a special event permit in Anna Maria, one of the requirements for obtaining it is an estimate of the number of attendees. It's a way to determine if the City needs to take measures regarding potential traffic issues.

When Walmart applies for its building permits, most localities require impact studies to determine what if any changes need to be made in nearby corridors to accommodate the projected increase in traffic. Walmart pays for the studies and often pays for the required changes: things like turn lane additions, traffic lights or roundabouts, shoulder widening, etc. It's Walmart's way of mitigating the impact of their presence.

Has anyone attempted to calculate the long-term effect of more than tripling the number of office/retail spaces on Pine Avenue?
If we require someone who wants to stage a one day event to estimate their effect on our traffic, isn't it reasonable to suggest a developer who affects our traffic permanently do the same?
Would it make sense to call for a moratorium on permits on Pine until a traffic impact study is done?

All commentary is invited, but I'd especially like to hear from principals of Pine Avenue Restoration and the other candidates for City Commissioner regarding this issue.


  1. Thoughtful question. However, the premise, surprisingly common here on the island, is what I call "The Walmart Effect". It's roughly akin to the question "since the Titanic went down due to icebergs, is it safe to drink iced tea in a kayak ?" The situations are not analogous. While WalMart enjoys drawing power shared by few retailers in the world, Lor-Ells front porch salon does not. What is happening on Pine Avenue was anticipated, in fact, encouraged by the Comprehensive Plan. The plans we have are designed to be responsive to current residential and visitor levels, not develop new traffic. Frankly, we lack that draw power. It is our beautiful beaches and the City Pier that attracts visitors, not the Podiatrist.

  2. Micheal,
    The scales may not be analagous, but the situations certainly are.
    I think it's disingenuous on your part to suggest the intention of your plan is to not draw new traffic. I doubt your using that approach when you try to sell a unit.
    If I were a retailer considering purchasing a portion of one of your proposed structures, I'd walk away now if I thought you weren't going to draw additional people.
    I would be most pleased if the rest of the retail/office spots were sold to professionals.
    I would still object to your parking plans, but I'll say more about at another time.
    I appreciate your response. Let the debate continue.

  3. Actually, Harry, that's exactly my position. Besides listing units at prices we don't really expect anyone to pay, "selling a unit" is not our goal. Hard to believe, I know. Our goal is to develop an occupancy mix consistent with a true, mixed use, village center. It is that which drives our plans. You may not be aware, for example, we have already declined to sell to a real estate company, since, frankly, that's been done.

    If you were a retailer considering "occupancy" (yes, we'll sell to the right occupant, or lease, as their needs and desires may dictate) I would tell you this: Anna Maria is world famous with no place to grow. We can't go vertical (thank God and Ernie Cagnina) and there is no more land to buy. Therefore there can never be capacity to welcome the hordes that people fear. The law of economic physics dictates increased value. Our restaurants just finished a banner year. Overall, our town is blessed to be up in a down economy. Yes, it's very possible to rely on what is already here.

  4. ps. Respectfully, they're not my parking plans. As previously indicated our plans were submitted consistent with laws passed in 1996, then reviewed and confirmed, I believe, around 2004 as part of the Hunt's approval process.

  5. Does this mean you won't sell to any more real estate companies?
    Capacity doesn't draw hordes. Attractions do. It won't take a horde to exceed this little town's capacity.
    When our capacity is exceeded, and traffic becomes a problem, will PAR foot the bill for intersection and street changes required to alleviate the problem?

    re: your p.s. You submitted the parking plan, ergo, it's yours. In future discourse, can we drop semantics unless they speak to definition?

  6. Plainly, yes, it means we won't sell to any real estate companies. Again, we're not the attraction. The beaches and the pier are.

    As to the ps, words matter. "our plan" implies we had any choice in it. The current parking laws dictated the plans submitted. Forgive me if I'm a bit sensitive on this point, but much has been made of the myth that we somehow manipulated the process to gain parking concessions. Naturally, I take every opportunity to knock this down.

    Thanks, Harry. One of us, or somebody, should have done this a long time ago. Things, in my opinion at least, would be a lot less contentious now. But at least you have set the example and gotten the ball rolling now, kudos.

  7. You certainly had other choices in your parking plan. I know, the City approved your plan. It's another one of those failure in process problems.
    You have your sensitive topics; I have mine.
    Mine happens to be safety. Comes from spending years hundreds of feet in the air monkeying around on bridges where my life depended on not just my judgement, but other people's judgement as well.
    I haven't heard anyone suggest PAR manipulated the process to gain parking concessions. I have suggested your parking plan as approved is a major concession to safety. It's in the City's best interest to ensure that concession is not made again. I'm concerned they have some liability here. I think they've approved something inherently dangerous.
    You can diagram parking plans from here 'til Doomsday and you'll never convince me backing out across a sidewalk, into bicycle traffic, and into a live lane to regain entry to Pine Avenue is safe.
    As problems go, I consider this one major. Fortunately, it can be easily remedied. The language is already in the Comp Plan. It's just a matter of getting the LDR into alignment.

  8. Aside from the fact that this parking plan has been in place and used in the commercial district for 40 years that we know of (cars backing out across sidewalks and onto the street, starting at Powers Plaza and ending at the City Pier, with untold tens of thousands of crossings still failing to produce the dire outcome you foresee}, let's accept your premise for the moment. We suggested early on, and still suggest, the remedy is as simple as bringing the sidewalks closer to the buildings (new construction) so that bicycles and pedestrians walk in front of cars, not behind them. Problem solved.

  9. I disagree. Problem compounded. Exponentially.
    The shortest distance between two points is still a straight line. Moving the sidewalk won't move the pedestrian or bicycle traffic. So now you've forced our pedestrian and bicycle traffic onto the street.
    Smart planning takes human behavior into account when it comes to walkways. Predict where the natural flow will be, and locate the sidewalk there, within the City right-of-way.
    Moving the sidewalk onto private property raises a host of issues, not the least which are maintenance and liability. On Pine Avenue, the sidewalk should remain exactly where it is. The parking should accommodate the sidewalk, not the other way around.
    If the traffic entering your place of business entered from Pine, turned and faced the sidewalk, and exited on Crescent, most of the concerns I've raised will have been addressed.
    Your weakest argument, I think is the 40 year comment. Our traffic situation is not what it was 40 years ago, or even five years ago. This is new development. We're going to have to live with what we're building for far more than 40 years. Let's get it right.

  10. There are, currently, today (I counted) approx 245 spaces between Powers Plaza and the City Pier whereby cars back onto a main street. My point with regard to 40 years is that from then, til now, in current reality, this has been working as what both state and local agencies refer to as "commonly accepted practices".

    We have acted in compliance with all existing laws. We will continue to do so.

  11. I would hope the safety of neighbors and visitors would be the first priority for developers. Commonly accepted pratices and existing laws are often changed, too late, after a tragedy.
    Regarding "commonly accepted practices": forty years ago, in some states, it was legal to drink a beer and drive, kids could ride a bike without a helmet, kids did'nt wear knee pads or elbow pads when they skated, and half of America smoked.
    Most of us are smarter now.

    From the FHWA: "Currently older pedestrians comprise 23 percent of all pedestrian fatalities while representing only 13 percent of the total U.S. population. Older adults are projected to account for 17 percent of the U.S. population by the year 2020. If the current injury and fatality rates remain the same, the current annual count of 9,000 elderly pedestrians injured and killed will increase to more than 16,000 by 2020.
    Older pedestrians, compared to other age groups, face higher crash and fatality rates at intersections, while walking near backing vehicles..." and during winter months in general, due in part to lowered visibility. The risk of dying in a pedestrian crash increases with age. Pedestrians, ages 65 and older, are two to eight times more likely to die than younger people when struck by motor vehicles. This is partly because older people are often less physically resilient. Approximately 15 percent of pedestrians 65 and older die after being hit by a motor vehicle."

    Need I say more?

  12. I hope when PAR develops those lots on which back out parking now exists, we can reduce the number of unsafe parking spots. I hope when PAR's finished, traffic movement will be more safe and more efficient on Pine Avenue, not less.

    I don't know what "from then, til now, in current reality" means, but I do know unsafe when I see it.

    Yesterday I was talking to a woman about the startups and failures of businesses here on the Island, and how important it is we patronize the businesses we want to keep. She told me one of the reasons she doesn't go to Pine Avenue grocery store is: "I'm afraid to. It's too hard to get out."

    Picture an event coming in February: Anna Maria's third Wedding Festival. Anyone not familiar with it should cut and paste this link.

    We're told 60 wedding professionals will be on hand to offer their expertise and services.

    Add to that: March 1 is also the first day of the busiest month of the rental season on the Island. Now, imagine the impact of the largest influx of monthly rentals coinciding with our third annual wedding festival.

    Does anyone think this is going to be our last wedding festival? You think anyone's going to say, "Okay, that's about right. We can stop now."
    It'll reach a saturation point when we've used up all our capacity, but it's anybody's guess where that may be.

    Where are the real estate offices that handle the bulk of our rentals at this end of the Island? Gulf and Pine. Where are most of the business locations presently servicing the wedding industry? Gulf and Pine. To which street are several dozen more office, retail, and residential rentals being added? Pine. And you want additional back out parking on Pine Avenue?

    According to Ed Chiles, we'll have "way over" 1,000 weddings on the Island in 2009. Promotion of the wedding industry has grown that number from just over 100 three years ago to way over 1,000. Lets use a ballpark of 1,500 weddings in 2009. Assume 40 persons came to town per wedding. That's 60,000 additional visitors to our Island in 2009. Extrapolate 2,000 weddings. That's 80,000 additional visitors. Assume 3 persons per vehicle. That's about 27,000 more vehicles on the Island than we had five years ago. You can toggle the figures a little, but even with conservative estimates, it's still a pretty impressive number. Over twenty thousand additional vehicles a year?

    It would seem the wedding industry has a pretty good chance of surpassing the beaches as an attraction.

    Micheal, take another look at a statement you made earlier in this thread:

    "The plans we have are designed to be responsive to current residential and visitor levels, not develop new traffic. Frankly, we lack that draw power. It is our beautiful beaches and the City Pier that attracts visitors, not the Podiatrist."

    You still want to stand by that statement?

    Granted, it's a lovely beach, but let's not stick our heads in the sand.

    This is no time to be making compromises on safety and efficiency on matters of traffic movement in Anna Maria.

    It is time to do some traffic studies and start the conversation about how we're going to handle this new growth.

    Efficient, safe traffic movement is to your benefit as well. The more efficiently you handle them, the more of them you can pack in here.

    Is it too early to suggest a roundabout at the intersection of Gulf and Pine?

  13. The fact, I presume, that there were a thousand weddings on the island last year kind of makes the point. We're all standing up, defending our quiet, laid back, Island. It's still quiet and laid back. A thousand weddings melted into our neighborhoods, celebrated one another in a grand cultural tradition. They spent money in support of our small businesses, kept the vacation rentals (btw, ask me some time why this is all Ike's fault) occupied and in general kept our island economy positive while the rest of the country, not so much.

    Yes, I do stand on my earlier statement because, whatever the generator, weddings, eco tours, etc, capacity is near complete, visitors can only come if there is capacity to receive them. Can't get to the numbers you project, no room at the inn. We'll see, time will tell. Go back in history to "fast Eddies" 600 seats, 150 parking spaces under current regs. No prob, we can't get anywhere near that density no matter how we try.

    It's a non issue.

  14. ps. I apologize, should have said "in my opinion, it's a non issue"

  15. We handled way over 1,000 weddings in 2009, and you suggest we can't handle 2,000?
    Are you kidding me? Again, 2,000 weddings x 40 persons/wedding=80,000 people.
    80,000 people with three persons/car= just under 27,000 cars.
    You actually think we can't do that?
    We not only can, we will. And well beyond that, I'm certain.
    We'd better prepare for that growth, because it's coming.
    Part of that preparation is making sure when all this development is finished, we've made our city safer, not more hazardous.

    I'm not sure why you're resisting this issue. What do we have to gain by making our streets and sidewalks less safe?

  16. 'capacity is nearly complete' - that comment makes no sense to me. I do not think that you are not allowing for the day trippers in that statement and there is no limit to the number of those that can come in for a day and clog up our roads. And I am not sure where you have been the last year but its certainly not as quiet and laid back as it was. In fact the beaches are absolutely packed most weekends.
    I am sure the people that lived in Clearwater 20 years ago made the same comments as you too back then. Its a slippery slope.
    I don't disagree that the island economy appears to be booming compared to everywhere else (not surprising given the run of publicity and the people coming in search of what they have been told will be peace and quiet and unspoilt beaches). But to say our island has been unaffected by the downturn in the economy would not be true. Ask the people who purchased real estate in 2005 and 2006 - many of them are underwater to the tune of 50%. I see the sales going through -there are a large number of foreclosures and short sales going through (of course this is not widely publicized). Up until now our Island has fetched a premium for its real estate - people are prepared to fork out large sums of money for the cracker cottages because they are buying into a lifestyle and that is what gives our real estate its high values. If we overdevelop that premium will go and we will see our real estate values drop relatively.

  17. Respectfully, truly, if I felt the way you feel,which I do not, I could not, in good conscience, build your building. Yes, housing values are down, but no where near what has happened just across the bridge. Our visitors are the reason. We should accomodate, not encourage more, of our visitors. Don't forget, I live on Pine Avenue. I'm no more interested than anyone else in "massive traffic jams, red lights and round abouts" so far, we have added a net of 12 back out spaces to the roughly 1800 that already exist in this town. When we are fully built out we will have added exactly, give or take, 21 residential units to the existing base of approx 1500, of which 400 are currently registered to pay bed tax. Less than a one percent net gain in residential units and about 5% net gain in capacity.

    This is much ado about nothing and is, in my opinion, more about monkey wrenches than solutions. As to the wedding calculations, what happened to the early statement along the lines of "it's a fad, it will pass, let's keep an eye out for problems" ?

    Numbers-wise, if the numbers posted are real, then we had an additional 40000 people and 14000 thousand cars this past year, wonder where they were hiding ?

  18. ps, Harry, just a question about followers and posting protocols. Is it not necessary to be seen as a follower to post on this blog. In other words, are we posting to lurkers as well as followers ? Just curious.

  19. First the traffic has to move down Gulf Dr to get to Pine Av. We already have a problem on Gulf during busy times. It is getting to be very difficult to cross Gulf at the crosswalk at Magnolia.Many visitors to our island do not realize they have to stop for walkers there.We need to get some cones to place in the center of the road, which says it is state law to stop for the walkers. My niece almost got hit by a car there last spring.Traffic had stopped on Gulf Dr,for her to walk,and then all of a sudden a driver in a jeep coming up from the beach on Magnolia Av quickly made a left turn onto Gulf and would have hit my niece in the crosswalk if her mother had not screamed at her to get out of the way.We had a close call that day.Next time it happens we may have a fatality.

  20. Micheal,
    These aren't my numbers. Ed Chiles said we had way over 1,000 weddings this year. Perhaps you should discuss the numbers with him.
    Re: island lover's concerns. The first rule in pedestrian safety is: separate pedestrians from vehicles. Obviously, that can't be done in a crosswalk situation. Pedestrian crossing signs may be helpful. Bolder pavement markings also are effective.

    Another successful technique is: slow drivers down. That can be accomplished several ways. One is obvious: lowered speed limits. We've already got 25 mph limits throughout Anna Maria, but maybe 15 mph in the business district would help.

    Another technique involves giving drivers the perception they're crowded. Plantings at road's edge have proven successful. Drivers tend to drive faster on roads with wide shoulders, and slow down when they feel constricted. Low level plants at road's edge don't limit visibility, but according to the FHWA, are very effective at slowing drivers down.
    As traffic increases in Anna Maria, we'll certainly have to explore many options on accomodating the increase in volume. I've mentioned just a few.

    Thanks for joining the conversation.

  21. Glad to see you moving toward some practical suggestions that we might work together on. I welcome this whether or not your election efforts are successful. As to the "wedding numbers" I was referring to your extrapolations. First, keep in mind, the number of 1000 originated in a newspaper and was referring to total ISLAND, weddings. Best estimates have that splitting up about 30% Anna Maria, 50% Bradenton Beach, etc...

    Additionally to that, TDC numbers are, essentially FLAT over the past three years. This means that wedding growth has offset, not added to, other areas of tourism, apparently in decline. This has blessed our small business owners, folks counting on rentals to maintain the value of their homes, etc, by letting them hold the line against the severe declines seen almost everywhere else.

    In any case, measure this against the past, fast eddies, for example w 600 seats requiring 150 spaces under today's codes and I think it's reasonable to conclude that, at our max build out numbers, we never reach what has already happened. Again, I reject the premise that we will draw traffic, but will simply (hopefully) slow down some of the traffic that will go by, seeking the piers and the beaches, whether we are "open for business" or not.

    That said, having kids on the street, a slower speed limit, clearly marked crossings, and other creative measures are, of course, worth looking at. As to the "near miss", Island lover refers to, I had one myself years ago, at the corner of gulf and pine, as I attempted to cross in my trusty red bike. An elderly woman, fully stopped and obviously confused, hit the gas instead of the brake for an instant and caused me to scurry indeed.

    My solution, however, was not to seek a ban on elderly, confused drivers. I chalked it off to life on a postage stamp as opposed to 100 acres in Idaho.

    Thanks for having a true "conversation" that can be joined. I sincerely commend you for it.