The most popular tourist game these days is searching for that single, elusive parking spot. Top down on the signature rented orange Camaro, there they go around the block, the one riding shotgun pointing to, oops, not that one.
If locals talk ceaselessly about traffic, they can come to blows over parking spaces. If your house comes with an off-street parking space, you can expect it to be worth $10,000 on a selling price.
If your block is a one-way street with parking on only one side, you think you’ve hit the lottery. And, if you come home from Publix with a boatload of bags and 12 rolls of toilet paper, and there’s a parking place on the street closer than a block away, you’ll pop a cork.
Parking in Key West is a nightmare. The closer one gets to the “coveted Old Town neighborhood,” as the real estate agents put it, the worse the parking. Some days, there are no parking places within five blocks of the Duval Street retail and entertainment district.
The city struggles with how to manage the increasingly challenging parking. From building a parking lot for buses to striping the neighborhood streets with “residential only” spaces, the planners and city commissioners know they’ve got to do something.
The latest is a proposal to spend more than $11 million to build two parking garages in Old Town. Part of me wants to say “what a terrific idea.” Most of me, though, says “please, let’s not.” Because if we build the garages, we’re encouraging more rental cars, and cars Key West definitely does not need.
Key West has two parking garages already. The public garage on Green Street and the private one at the Westin. I use both; they’re handy and they beat driving around looking for a space on the rare occasion when I drive downtown rather than walk or bike.
Two more garages aren’t likely to free up neighborhood parking, nor will they take rental cars out of Old Town. Tourists (and, let’s face it, a lot of locals) think they ought to be able to park right in front of wherever they’re going. They’ll drive around for an hour until something closer opens.
Could the city perhaps limit neighborhood parking to one side of the street and reserve every space for residents? Could they limit Old Town parking to Monroe County residents and those who work downtown? Perhaps the city could require rental cars (with their bar codes) to park in the garages? Considerations like that might make me consider saying OK to building another garage.
I’m not ready to sign on to – or oppose – the idea of building parking garages. For sure, they’d have to blend into the neighborhood and not exceed the height restrictions. I sure as heck don’t want a couple of cement block monstrosities.
The city has a lot of pondering to do on this garage thing. They’ve got to ask themselves: What could possibly go wrong?
Sometimes solutions come with unintended consequences. Like the $10 annual residential parking stickers that allow residents to park in street spaces anywhere in town.
Without the sticker, you can’t park in a residential space unless you want to get towed. And, believe me, you will be towed because the neighbors will call the cops pretty much before you can get out of your rental car.
The reserved spaces are a great thing – except that they’re pushing tourists with their rental cars and non-residents deeper into the neighborhoods surrounding Old Town, where there are fewer marked spaces. And, that, my friends, can really rile up the residents.
That’s when we pull out the trashcans and leave them on the street. Or we talk loudly from the porch about rude parkers. Or we call the parking czar and have red warnings placed on their cars. I’ve watched folks chase two tourists with their roller bags down the block, hollering at them to move their car.
Of course, the best solution to Key West parking – and traffic – is to reduce the number of vehicles on the island. But, that’s a pipe dream. There’s no collective will among the “deciders” to make those tough decisions.
Instead, we’ll do what we can to cope. Hopefully, without parking garages.
Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of KeyWestWatch Media, a digital media solutions company for small businesses. She has not yet chased tourists down the street, though the thought has crossed her mind.