I’ve often mentioned how nice it is when Duval Street is closed off from vehicular traffic to accommodate special events. Letting people walk up and down the street instead of herding them along the narrow sidewalks creates exactly the kind of atmosphere you would want from such a venue. People seem to enjoy being able to look around, party, and act a fool much more better when they ain’t trying to dodge each other. You feel a definite change in the mood of the crowds when there are no vehicles on that street. There have been some preliminary hints that some in the City of Key West government have indeed, been thinking in that direction. But so far, nothing but lip service has been paid to make it happen.
Well, apparently the city did bring in some consultants to study some plans and they had a brief public meeting to discuss their ideas. Their plan, while it will “enhance” Duval, has several issues. Firstly, it mainly just redesigns the street to eliminate the curbs. Vehicles will only be banned during special events, much like it is now. And, the people who are doing the designing are not from Key West. Meaning they will take the cookie cutter approach and make our favorite little street into a duplicate copy of every other cookie cutter festival street around the country.
This is Key West, dammit. Not Bugtustle, Ohio nor any other burg north of the Cowkey bridge. Despite the attempts of the chain stores to move in and force out the old unique shops, restaurants, and inns, this town is unlike any place else in the country, or planet for that matter. Bringing in some hick from the big city to try and sell the residents on some cloned, homogenous, same as all the others, plan is an insult to everything Key West is, or was. If Duval is to be redesigned, it needs to be done by those who will benefit the most from it, the businesses that are located on the street, and those nearby who will be affected by any changes.
There is also hesitation regarding a permanent ban on vehicles on Duval. My voice counts for nothing but let me scream it again anyways:
“There is no legitimate reason whatsoever to allow vehicles on Duval Street!”
Look, it’s so fucking simple, even a dumb old ex biker like myself can see it. You take the section from Truman Ave. north to Front Street. You block all vehicular traffic except for pedestrians and bicycles. You have three cross streets, Fleming, Southard, and Greene so traffic can get across and delivery vehicles can get close enough to the businesses. You open the portions of the street for special vehicle events like the parades, the poker run, and maybe the occasional car show, with special permits. Transform the street into a real festival scene. Allow street vendors to rent kiosks, allow restaurants to offer sidewalk tables and seating, give the street entertainers from Mallory another spot to put on their shows. Fix the drainage issues, especially on the north end. Make Duval much more than what it is, yet keep it Key West.
As for the inconvenience to drivers, too bad. Encourage our beloved tourists to ditch the car when they reach the island. Enhance the public transit system to run 24/7. Hell, raise the tourist tax and offer free public transit. Promote bicycle riding as the prime way to get around. Give the existing bike shops some incentives to increase their rental fleets. Work with the airlines to offer more better fares so more people would be encouraged to fly down rather than drive.
It can all be done if the city just shows a little testicular fortitude. Duval Street is not a thoroughfare, it is an ongoing festival and tourist attraction. It is in effect, our Disney World. Keeping Duval the way it is, sharing the street between pedestrian and vehicular traffic is not viable. If we want our tourists and their money to come here and have a positive memorable experience, then making Duval car free is a step in the right direction.
But, there is an old joke here on the rock. It takes the City 2 years to do anything. No matter what, 2 years. They will drag their feet, pay for more studies, bring in more outsiders who have no clue about what Key West really is about, and in the end, we will still have to dodge the cars and each other to get up and down Duval. It will be a damn shame to not take this bold step and ban the vehicles. They could just allow the city to become just another Bugtustle, or take the high road and keep Key West as something special. We have a chance now to make it special, but only if the city is willing to to do so.
No Cars On Duval!