Mar 222012
 

It has come to my attention that despite all that I’ve taught y’all some of you out there are still driving motorized vehicles. I spend countless hours slaving over a hot iPad posting about the evils of vehicle ownership and this is the thanks I get. Fine. Be that way. Waste money on gas, insurance, loans, and maintenance. See if I care.

It has also come to my attention that some of you may at some point decide to visit our fair island by driving one of those infernal machines down here. Well, try as I might, I guess there’s no stopping you. So, I may as well help you out and make your drive as painless as possible.

Here then are some handy helpful tips from the Fritter on driving in Key West…

We have one road in and one road out of the Keys, US 1. A scenic 120 mile stretch over land and ocean. It can be one of the most pleasant drives you’ll ever experience, or the trip from hell. Plan on at least three hours one way coming or going. Most of US 1 is 45 mph or less. Traffic can be very heavy especially on weekends and all it takes is one minor fender bender to tie up traffic in either direction for hours. Traffic enforcement is stricter than Rick Santorum chaperoning a teen dance. Speed traps, DUI stops, and radar cover every mile of road. Drivers new to the area can be easily distracted by the views especially over the bridges. It’s a neat drive but you really need to pay attention.

Once you reach Key West things change rapidly. Key West is not built for vehicles. I’m not saying that to be anti car and truck. Key West is a very old city. It was built when a horse and buggy was considered to be an SUV. Nobody designed the town with Escalades, Hummers, nor motor homes in mind. As a result, most of the streets are very narrow. Take a look…

This is South Roosevelt heading towards the airport, the widest road on the island…

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It lasts all of about one mile and then suddenly shrinks to two narrow lanes on Bertha. It and North Roosevelt are the only two spots on the island where the speed limit is 35 mph. Everywhere else on the island it’s 25 or less. Most of the streets look more like this…

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That’s Southard looking west. A single lane with a bike lane and cars parked on both sides. Sometimes this happens too…

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Big trucks have to try and maneuver these streets to deliver goods into the downtown businesses. It’s not the easiest trick in the world to get one of these monsters in and out of the island.

In addition to narrow streets there are all manner and modes of transportation competing for space. Cars, trucks, busses, taxis, limos, motorcycles, bicycles, scooters, electric vehicles, golf carts, pedestrians, wheelchairs, segways, low flying aircraft, trolleys, conch trains, wild chickens, and tourists paying absolutely no attention to where they are going. There is nothing more frustrating than following a vehicle where the driver is lost, and it’s surprisingly easy to do on a small island. Key West is laid out in a somewhat complicated way and if you don’t know your way around it can get damn confusing. Just remember that if you continue in one direction, eventually you’ll hit water. Islands are funny like that.

So what to do if you are driving to the end of the world? The best strategy if you are going to drive to Key West is find a place to park your car and don’t touch it again until you are ready to leave. It’s not a big island, only 2 miles wide and 4 miles long. You can ride a bicycle around it in about an hour and a half. Bicycle rentals are all over the island. They are cheap and most will drop off and pick up when you are done. Go over to Pedalfritters and look on the side bar for a listing of most of them.

Bicycles not your thing? The island has a fine bus service. It runs everyday and covers all the island. $2 per ride and let somebody else deal with the traffic. You can find the schedules here…Key West Transit.

Taxi service is quick and reasonably priced if you want to go that route. They run all the time and drivers know the island quite well. Here are some links…

Key West Taxi

Friendly Cab

A Better Cab

In addition, many of the resorts offer shuttle services around the island for their guests.

Other ways to get around include renting scooters, electric cars, and there are even pedicab drivers for the Old Town area. Or you can try that ancient art of putting one foot in front of the other also known as walking. Trust me you are going to see way more stuff and enjoy the island a whole lot more on foot or bike than you would from inside a hermitically sealed box.

So all that begs the next question…where to leave your vehicle? And that, is a tough one.

Parking is a big issue in Key West. First of all, there is no free parking…at least no long term free parking. You can park for free at the shopping centers of course but only for the time the stores are open and only if you are there to shop. Street parking is tricky and most spots are reserved for residents. Fines are heavy and enforced to the letter. There is metered parking on some streets. One good thing is Key West has modernized many of its meters to accept coins as well as credit or bank cards…

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Other streets may not have meters but a sign that says “Pay to Park”. Nearby will be a kiosk that looks like this…

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Again, they accept cards so no need to fumble with change. Swipe your card, put in your time, put the receipt on your dash and you are set.

There are several parking lots and garages on the island. Here is a link to them…Key West Parking Lots.

But if you are coming down for a few days and staying at a resort or rental, check with your rental agent or concierge for parking options. They should be able to help you out. Remember that on weekends and special events, parking will be at a premium. During really big events like Fantasy Fest, the city will utilize the local high school lots and busses to get people in and out of the area. And if you are coming down by RV or big ass motor home, please do everyone a favor and park it at the rv park, and drive your tow vehicle in or take the bus or taxi. Over night rv parking on the island is illegal and there ain’t no place to put it downtown.

As for other items like fuel and repairs. There are several gas stations on the island but as I have mentioned before, gas is usually more expensive here than the upper Keys since it has to be trucked in. There are also several repair businesses on the island but I’ll be honest here, I know little if anything about them. The only experience I had was waiting for three hours for a goddamn oil change at Sears Auto a few years ago.

And by the way, if you are coming down by Harley, there are NO repair facilities south of Marathon. Nothing, not even a small shop doing oil changes. The Yamaha and Honda dealers will not help you.

One final tip. Key West is an island. It is surrounded on all sides by ocean. That means sea water. Sea water is a very toxic environment for metal. Anytime it rains here and puddles form, those puddles leach up salt from the ground and essentially become seawater. So when you drive through them you are splashing very salty corrosive water into the innards of your pride and joy. When you return home from your Keys trip, plan on taking some extra time and clean the underside of your vehicle as thoroughly as possible.

So, still thinking of driving down? It’s not too late to sell the vehicle. You should have plenty of money left over to cover airfare, taxi, and bike rental. I know, I’m being snarky again. There will always be some of you who will drive down. That’s ok as long as you know what to expect when you get here. I’ll say this again…Key West is not a car friendly island. It’s simply the way the city is and there is no changing it. Your best bet is to make arrangements for keeping your vehicle someplace safe during your stay and use the other ways to get around the island as I described above. Driving through Key West is really a pain in the ass and you’re going to enjoy the island a whole lot more if you don’t have to worry about parking, traffic, or getting lost. So plan your trip accordingly and enjoy your stay. We’ll talk about getting rid of the vehicle another time.

Capt. Fritter