Traffic in the Keys can be a problem, but solutions are on the horizon

Richard Clark, executive director of Monroe County Transit, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5F this morning to talk about traffic.

Traffic in the county is moving forward.

Clark said, “We are in a great position now where we’re looking forward instead of backward on what we had, we’re now looking forward. What do we need? And how do we implement those needs in a very logical order to help us get up and down the Keys? So we’re going to start our first service early next year. So you’ll start seeing some of our smaller on demand vehicles with our logo on the side Conch. You won’t be able to miss them.”

What kind of vehicles are they?

Clark said, “There’ll be a minimum of four passengers per vehicle. Most of those will be electric vehicles. Then we will do again, a minimum of one if not two, ADA vans that will hold  eight people if necessary. Those are designed specifically for the people in that Stock Island to Key West area getting people to and from their place of employment. It’s our first real effort into that world, somewhat similar to what Islamorada is doing. Although, you know, our service comes with a fair, minimum $2. But still a fair, nonetheless.”

Some other successful transit models that were looked at include one from Aspen, CO.

Clark said, “I realize it’s the complete opposite of our lifestyle here. But the system is eerily, eerily similar. You have one road that comes in and out of the valley, that goes from Glenwood Springs to Aspen, Colorado. In the wintertime, they have a tripling of their population, along with a flood of tourism. So it’s eerily similar in the challenges they face. One road in, one road out. They have the only rural bus rapid transit system in the country, meaning there wait times, the frequency is about every 10 minutes for a bus. It’s an incredibly, incredibly successful system. They’re just they’re doing it right. So I’ve been talking to their CEO at length, and we’re trying to find the time for all of us to get together and really look through what our existing conditions say. So that he can say, here are the mistakes we made. Here’s what you want to avoid and these are the things we did that really worked well. That’s really what we’re trying to take away, let’s not relive mistakes that we can avoid.”

Other people are also taking a look at what Key West is doing with our transit system, including Paul Comfort.

Clark said, “He’s an author that’s written several books, on transit throughout the world. He works for an enormous software company. He flies all over the world, looking and examining transit systems and how they work and what they do right and wrong, and how you can apply that. He called me, reached out and he said, look, we’re ready, we’re going to come in February, we really want to understand where you are. This is something special that no place else in the United States has, which is your we’re building something from nothing. So to be able to start from the ground floor is something really special that no one’s seen in quite some time.”

In terms of the evacuation modeling, all kinds of traffic flow needs to be considered.

Clark said, “We’ve had several very substantive meetings, looking from both sides, both every day transportation up and down Overseas as well as what evacuations and evacuation times look like. Key West actually operates in their own model, even though it is tied into the county. It’s far more complex than I ever gave it credit for. Everybody’s working toward the same goal. It’s really just okay, how do we make sure, as we slide times when people need to start evacuating and things like that? How do we ensure that everyone gets out safely? That’s the only task at hand.”

Is there the possibility that the evacuation time could be changed?

Clark said, “We’ve asked what it looks like. The Department of Emergency Management, and FEMA are trying to figure out exactly what they need to do. We don’t know. They may just hold the line at 24 hours for the final evacuation. They may say, you know what, we can do it in 36. But we need to understand what that means for everyone that lives here and what that means, from an evacuation perspective. You don’t want people on the roads for 12, 15 hours at a time to get out of here. That’s just not safe or acceptable.”

Plans for traffic will be done in terms of phases.

Clark said, “It’s really one step at a time. It’s difficult. We really need to show patience on our roads. We really need to understand what we’re dealing with, and how people are moving around. It’s going get busier, as we all know, between now and for the next four or five months. So I always ask everybody to just slow down, take a deep breath. Every municipality has been so helpful and so engaging, and what can we do next? Here’s what we’ve been thinking about, how do we make sure we’re all rowing in the same direction with the same goals in mind? So it’s been really nice to see as the momentum builds that that everyone is coalescing in the same direction.”