As Anna Maria Island cities focus on parking and congestion issues, Bradenton Beach Commissioner Ric Gatehouse has created a seven-point parking plan for the city.
“I don’t think anyone can disagree that traffic and parking are among the most pressing issues we have in the city, especially during season,” Gatehouse wrote in a prepared statement.
“We cannot simply stick our heads in the sand and hope the problem goes away,” he said. “It will not, and it’s only going to get worse. The effects of traffic and parking congestion go beyond the gridlock it creates,” he stated.
Like other island officials, Gatehouse says he is concerned with the consequences of traffic to the infrastructure.
“We must reduce this stress and generate some capital to repair our streets and parking areas,” he said.
To achieve that goal, Gatehouse said Coquina Beach, with an estimated 1,600 parking spaces, must be used more effectively.
“For the most part, we need to redirect traffic and parking out of our neighborhoods and into the lots at Coquina Beach,” he said. “We also need to think about providing parking off-island to help reduce traffic and relieve parking congestion.”
While officials across the island are looking at ways to develop park-and-ride opportunities off-island, Gatehouse has a plan on paper.
He proposes to engage Manatee County, including its Tourist Development Council “and other agencies to identify and negotiate a lease, purchase or otherwise procure use of plots of land to be used for parking off the island.”
Gatehouse said there is a vacant lot across from the Seafood Shack in Cortez, where visitors could be shuttled to the island via a jitney, trolley or water taxi.
He suggests making it a private enterprise and points to the growing number of water taxi and boat operators applying to use the Historic Bridge Street Pier.
Gatehouse said such an operation could eliminate 100-200 cars a day while keeping the same number of visitors coming to the island to enjoy the beaches and local businesses.
• The so-called “789 Plan” addresses parking at Cortez Beach. Gatehouse said discussion on the plan has been ongoing for years and it’s time to act.
By creating a one-way road in the center of the easement, and creating parking on both sides of the road, it will add as many as 40 parking spaces within walking distance of Bridge Street. It would also eliminate the illegal and unsafe activity of drivers backing up vehicles onto a state road.
Gatehouse said if the project were scheduled during a stormwater drainage refit to address pooling water after a rainfall, “the costs would be kept down.”
• Permit parking is being discussed islandwide and Gatehouse is proposing it in Bradenton Beach.
“We need to do all we can to encourage parking at Coquina Beach,” he said. “Currently, there is no recourse for a property owner who finds a stranger’s car parked on their property, if the vehicle has at least one tire on the right-of-way easement.”
Gatehouse proposes easement parking by permit only throughout the city.
“Permits would be free to resident property owners,” he said.
• Gatehouse also is proposing making all municipal lots paid parking.
“Signage would direct those who do not wish to pay to Coquina Beach,” he said, while noting residents with a valid parking permit or handicap-parking permit would be exempt.
• Time-limited parking restrictions on Bridge Street also are being proposed. Gatehouse said it would help turn over clientele visiting businesses and “prevent day-trippers from parking all day while at the beach.”
He said if Bridge Street business owners wished to park in front of their establishments all day, a permit would be available for a small fee with the creation of a business parking permit. Such a permit, Gatehouse said, could also be used at municipal parking lots.
• Employee parking locations would be established at the north end of Coquina Beach, an idea previously discussed and approved by the county. Gatehouse said the only thing holding up that plan is the availability of jitney services, but that is being addressed.
• Gatehouse said he would propose changes to the land development code to address outdoor dining and parking requirements “to ensure we don’t add more seating without adequate parking provisions.”
Gatehouse said his plan could be implemented over time to lessen the impact, but said in order to make a real impact, all must be accomplished.
“Taken individually, these measures would not help much, but if implemented together, this comprehensive plan could go a long way to relieve some of the parking and traffic pressure in Bradenton Beach,” he said. “It is hard to say how much relief, but if we do nothing, things will surely get much worse.”
Gatehouse said he will present his plan at an upcoming city commission meeting.