Stop the buses before the Cow Key Bridge

Fifty bucks for six hours of premo parking in Old Town? And the City of Key West provides the parking lot gratis?

Now you may be thinking “Crikey, that’s a lot of money for parking. It’s darn near $10 an hour.” Nah, you’re wrong. That’s nothing, A pittance.

Why? Because that’s $50 for one mass-quantity bus. You know the ones. Filled with day-tripping tourists? Those massive “motor coaches,” complete with WiFi, that ply the two lanes of the Overseas Highway between Miami and Key West?

cropped-KWWM_Letters.pngThey do a daily dump of hundreds of sightseers at the bottom of Duval for six hours of wandering the streets, discovering (and complaining) that we don’t have tourist-fancy beaches, and occasionally spending money on a $5 T-shirt (or three for $10).

These lumbering, over-sized charter buses come down daily from Miami and have become the scourge of Key West’s narrow, one-way and dead-end streets. Their sides and back ends spill across two lanes, they struggle with multiple three-point turns attempting to get around a corner and they park their waddling carcasses anywhere they darn please until a cop runs them off.

This week, the city said it was building a nine-bus parking lot in the 900 block of Caroline St., just down the block from the start of the Duval Crawl. And, lordy, lordy, the city’s going to charge each bus all the way to $50 a day to park there.

Now that’s a nice chunk of change for the city coffers. Nothing wrong with $450 a day of unearned income. Except that it ought to be double that. Heck, let’s triple it. Quadruple it.

These charters charge each passenger between $75 and $100 for the round-trip. Passengers are encouraged to bring along their own snacks (then they don’t have to spend money eating in Key West.) The bus company’s only going to pass along what would amount to a few bucks to the riders. What do we care?

Key West ought to ban charter buses anywhere in Old Town except in this new Caroline Street lot — and then charge outrageous fees for the premium location. No drop-offs or pick-ups except at Caroline Street.

Ban all the other charter buses from Old Town and require them to park off island, in the retail shopping area lots or in the high school lot on weekends (and charge them there, too.) In short, if your charter bus crosses the Cow Key Bridge, there’s gonna be a fee commensurate with the size of the bus. Big.

If the charter owners balk and say they’re not coming to Key West anymore, well, then, most excellent. These are not revenue producing visitors. Farewell and don’t let the door hit you broadside on the way out of town.

P.S. The same — except with a tenfold increase in the daily fee to $500 for the day — applies to the approximately 75 chartered party buses that disgorge thousands of Fantasy Fest day trippers in October.

These benighted souls come equipped with coolers, camp chairs and survival packs of adult beverages and food, and lay claim to blocks and blocks of sidewalk. Even the city acknowledges they don’t spend money; they just clutter — and litter — the streets.

Solution’s simple: Put a gigonzo parking fee hurt on the charter buses. It might curtail the spend-no-money riffraff. And, if it doesn’t?

At $500 a day per bus times 75 Fantasy Fest buses, that’s $37,500. Not a bad ROI for parking.

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of KeyWestWatch Media, a small business digital media solutions company. Clearly, she’s not rationale about those buses.


Tourists should get to vote on Florida’s Amendment 1

Where’s a good, ol’ fashioned voter fraud when you need one? Let’s let the tourists vote in Florida.

Especially this November on Amendment 1, which would pony up big chunks of already collected tax dollars to buy, manage, improve and preserve Florida land. It only seems fair that tourists should get to help decide how best to pay for the land and water they come to visit.

I mean, they do come to Florida for the dream, right? Not for the paved over shopping centers? OK, so the shopping centers are a draw, too. Same with Key West’s daily Duval Crawl. One does have to have something to do in between exploring the Everglades, fishing the flats or paddling the kayak.

Florida’s all about the water, sun and sand and when one strips away the rhetoric, we’ve pretty much paved over the good stuff, filled in the swamps and dirtied up the edges. Add in a dozen inches of sea level rise and there’s not a lot of dreamy beachfront left.

We did all that out of ignorance — who knew back then it was environmental suicide to allow concrete parking lots and highrises to replace those stinky, alligator-filled swamps? We continued out of greed and need.

From the 1950s when those Lucy-and-Ricky trailer pullers camped out in Florida’s backwaters (my grandparents were among them), Florida’s been a magnet for folks following the sun. And, we catered to them with resorts, entertainment and glitzy destinations. Mosquito plagued campsites might be all the rage with eco-campers, but they’re not going to attract a lot of loose-spending, second home owning folks or summer vacationers with antsy kids.

That’s why tourists and snowbirds should be able to vote on Amendment 1. (P.S.: Those second home-owning snowbirds already paid big bucks for their document stamps when they bought their house. Florida loves its doc stamps; great revenue source.)

It’s kinda this great circle of life. Tourists love Florida’s sunny, sandy, watery dream. They flock here to enjoy it, preferably with air conditioning, good restaurants and paved, go-fast roads. All that concrete and energy put more nails in the coffin of the fragile Florida environment, but it sure does enhance the revenue stream.

If we lose the green space, we’re going to lose the greenbacks. Hence, we better darn well save the environment we’ve got left and undo what we’ve already plundered.

Without an expensive poll to back me up, I’m willing to venture that tourists would support Amendment 1. And, since I really don’t advocate voter fraud (you didn’t think I was serious, did you?), it’s up to Florida voters to do the right thing.

Florida needs Amendment 1 to ensure that 33 percent of the already collected document stamps is dedicated to keeping Florida green and wet. This is not a new tax; it’s a hammer that smacks the legislature anytime its grubby fingers decide to move those tax dollars elsewhere. The money is already being collected. Amendment 1 says use the money to fund the Land Acquisition Trust Fund.

Pretty much everyone except the Florida Chamber of Commerce and a handful of political types are saying they’ll vote “yes” on Amendment 1. Even though many of us have to hold our noses at needing a constitutional amendment to make the legislature do the right thing, we’re voting “yes.”





Five “first year” lessons for living in Key West

You know how polite people invite house guests to come stay a while? And, how polite people smile and say “sure” and never show up?

That’s not Key West. Nope, invite house guests to Key West and they actually come. As Ed and I tell each other, “finally, we live in a place where people will show up.” We’ve got this refrigerator magnate that says: “Life on an island: Expect company.”

We made Key West our full-time home in 2012, fulfilling a dream that began with Ed’s simple and completely unexpected 2007 proposition: We ought to buy a house, renovate it and move here.

We sold the Rockford, IL, life, packed up the four cats and did it. Our house guests followed.

We like house guests, though we do have some rules. Family and fast friends are welcome to food and lodging for a week; after that they chip in. No maid service. We don’t cook much, but you can use the can opener. There’s always a fresh pot of coffee. Entertain yourselves; Ed and Linda still work for a living.

Use inside voices even outside. We don’t want problems with the neighbors who disagree with your politics. Oh, and the three cats stay; bring your antihistamine.

We’ve learned five lessons this first full year in Key West:

  • Expect iguanas in the bathroom occasionally. Along with ants and palmetto bugs (Yankees call ‘em roaches.)
  • Neighbors frown on excessive Christmas decorations. Tone ‘em down. You can keep the lighted flamingo with Santa hat.
  • Yes, it is OK to wear shorts and flip flops to work and church. Keep your tuxedo and evening dress; Key West adores dress-up parties.
  • Have a calendar handy. Because the seasons don’t change, you’ll have no idea what month it is. Although, it is nice to mulch the plants in December. July is a bit sweaty.
  • You cannot convince your family and friends that you didn’t retire. On the other hand, you can take a swim and admire the palm trees after work.

To friends — old and new. To family. May the sunrise bring you joy and the sunset peace.



Key West voters say “no” to study, cruise ships; time to put hard feelings aside for solutions

On Oct. 1, Key West thumbed its collective nose at cruise ships and turned its back on an almost $90 million annual revenue stream. By saying “no” to a feasibility and environmental impact study, voters made it clear: no study; no dredging; no widening; no cruise ships — and while you’re at it no tick-tacky passengers in T-shirts either.

At issue in the grinding, six-month long referendum campaign was whether Key West could eventually widen its channel, which lies within the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary, to accommodate longer, modern cruise ships that are replacing the smaller, older (and less green) ones currently docking in Key West. Without a channel widening, the new ships can’t get into the harbor safely. Not today, or next year, but certainly within two decades, cruise ships won’t stop in Key West.

Now, not everyone who voted against doing a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers feasibility study on widening a mile-long segment of the main shipping channel by 150-feet did so for the same reasons. It was, as they say complicated. The 4,000-plus “no study” voters brought together a quintessentially Key West assortment of the cliched strange bedfellows.

Sincere environmentalists and the semi-unemployed. Wealthy (think rarer than the run-of-the-mill one percenter) second homeowners and political gadflies. Fans of exclusionary zoning and local small business owners. Retirees and energy company and investment executives. The “no study” vote carried every Key West neighborhood to a resounding defeat of the Chamber of Commerce-backed Support the Study political action committee.

Despite outspending its opposition significantly, the Support the Study PAC was unable to convince voters that doing the study did not automatically mean widening the channel. That was, however, the opposition’s message, often couched in hyperventilated advertising that included references to Italy, greedy business owners, dead sea turtles, fat, lazy tourists and the particularly offensive self-made video comparing those supporting the study to Nazis and Hitler.

I supported the study because I think the study would have, for $750,000, given Key West the information it needs to determine its environmental, economic and quality of life future. I think Key West will come to regret the decision to forgo the detailed, comprehensive research on which to craft its future. And, just to make it clear: My company did paid media consulting work for the support the study PAC.

But… Key West voters said no.

Hard feelings on both sides are apparent 10 days after the vote. But, unless the no voters can stop chortling “nah-nah-nah-nah” and the yes voters can stop eying them as careless, clueless pitchfork people, Key West is in for a long, slow economic decline.


Key West weather: Time for a flamingo in costume

I’m pretty sure Key West weather makes transplanted residents crazy. After a year in the southernmost city, I have no idea what month it is.

I stopped obsessively watching The Weather Channel because nothing changes. Eighty degrees, sunshine, humid and the occasional passing thunderstorm. That part I like. The visual and temperature cues of the Northeast and Midwest? Those I miss. I mean, how do you know when it’s getting along about Christmas if there are green leaves and you’re wearing flip flops.

I can’t speak to those born-and-bred in the constant 80-ish, humid weather. They don’t need a calendar to tell them it’s time for goblins, turkeys and caroling. They think it’s perfectly normal to wear flip flops in November. In fact, I watched as a dozen pre-teens walked into church Sunday in attire a committed Midwesterner packed away the end of August. I saw two 20-somethings wearing boots — boots? — with their sundresses and decided they must be tourists.

The weather can make you crazy. Scientists figured that out a long time ago. Too cold and dark for too long not so good for depression. Apparently, too warm and sunny’s not so good either. Personally, I think it’s less about the weather and more about the absence of subtle cues we non-natives learned from the cradle to count on.

Feel that certain crispness just underneath the Labor Day breeze? Time to put away the white shoes and get out the fleece. Leaves on trees gone from green to red to rust to almost gone except for the oak tree? Time to buy Halloween candy. No leaves? Turkey time. Snow and ice on the roads on the morning commute. Yeah, Christmas. And, so it goes, those little cues to which I paid no conscious attention.

Until they weren’t there. Nowadays, when every day is July Fourth, I’ve missed birthdays, anniversaries, entire holidays. Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day all morphed into Christmas. The absence of those subconsciously trusted calendar reminders makes me crazy.

Wondering aloud about those cues (well, actually whining to a sister-in-law) brought, however, this perfectly splendid solution: “Get a concrete goose,” she said. “Check the calendar and dress it accordingly.”

No goose. A flamingo. Coming soon to a porch near me.


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