Off-season parking Aug. 8 at Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach looks a lot like in-season parking. The beach parking lot is designed for 400 vehicles, but even on an August weekday, finding parking was difficult. Islander Photo: Mark Young
Chair Richard Motzer of the newly formed Committee on Traffic Congestion and Parking summed up the committee’s dilemma at its first meeting Aug. 5 at Holmes Beach City Hall, saying, “We have a congestion problem.”
The committee was formed under the direction of Holmes Beach Mayor Carmel Monti and includes Motzer, Carol Soustek, Pam Leckie, Terry Davidson, Peggy Davenport and Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer.
Commissioner David Zaccagnino is liaison to the committee with Monti providing input and direction. Zaccagnino and Davenport were absent.
The committee is directed to address traffic congestion and parking issues during weekends, on holidays and in season.
The committee suggested asking representative of Holmes Beach churches and banks to open their parking lots on weekends and holidays, with signage directing motorists to park in the specified lots.
Motzer said Sunday parking would need to be coordinated with church services, and suggested a donation box be set up at the churches.
Motzer suggested the city purchase signage for the cooperating businesses and churches and direct the public works department to ensure the lots are routinely cleaned.
The committee also discussed parking on Manatee Avenue near the entrance to Manatee Public Beach, 4000 Gulf Drive. While parking on the south side of Manatee Avenue is allowed, the north side now is a posted tow-away zone.
Motzer said even though it’s legal to park on the south side, safety is an issue.
“It depends on how they park,” said Motzer. “Normally, the family is trying to get all their stuff together and sometimes the kids get away from them. I saw two kids run out in the street when I drove by the other day.”
Motzer said the other issue is parallel parking.
“If everyone is parallel parking, that means someone is stopping on Manatee Avenue in an attempt to pull into a spot and that’s causing traffic to back up,” he said.
Tokajer said if the city wants to continue to allow parking on the south side, then angle parking is better.
“It’s the safest way,” said Tokajer. “No matter where you park on Manatee it’s still a problem getting out into traffic, but if we allow it on the south side, I would say mark it for angled parking only.”
The committee agreed that marked angle parking would be safer and allow more parking spaces than paralleled-parked cars.
Bradenton Beach overflow?
Davidson offered a suggestion to create signage directing beachgoers to Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach when the Manatee Public Beach parking lot is full.
Manatee Public Beach has 400 designated parking spots, while Coquina Beach has 1,600.
Committee members acknowledged that as congestion issues continue to be addressed, dialogue with representatives from the other island cities is necessary. They also acknowledged that Bradenton Beach officials may not like the idea of diverting excess traffic to Coquina Beach.
“I know traffic at night is pretty rough in Bradenton Beach, and we’ll need to have a discussion with them before doing anything like that,” said Motzer.
Tokajer said diverting traffic to Bradenton Beach might cause an islandwide traffic problem, as beachgoers wind their way to Coquina Beach.
Monti said conversations about congestion with Bradenton Beach Mayor John Shaughnessy and Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn are ongoing.
Monti also is pursuing ideas of charging for parking at the beach.
“We have to maintain a certain amount of free parking to qualify for beach renourishment,” said Monti. “But we are in discussion regarding parking programs for the respective cities.”
The mayor brought up his idea for building a multi-level parking structure at the beach.
“I know that conjures up some bad issues, but if it’s done right and designed right, it can be done tastefully and raise revenue.”
One idea being discussed is to create a permitted parking system on public streets and beaches.
Residents would receive free stickers and it also could assist the city in ensuring rental agents are not overbooking units by issuing only a specific number of permits for the allowed number of vehicles at each licensed accommodation.
If not issued a permit to park on the street, all other vehicles parked at a rental unit could be ticketed and towed.
Committee members acknowledged that it was only an idea, and that there were a lot of details that would need to be worked out.
Monti also is pursuing ideas to put an airport-style booth at the beach that would accept credit cards for entry, as well as continuing discussions on approaching Manatee County and the state for toll booths at all three island entry points.
Monti wanted a consensus from the committee on a toll booth and committee members found it worthwhile.
Tokajer said it would need to be a SunPass kind of system, or it would create more of a traffic issue than what currently exists.
A lot of discussion was geared on how to exempt island residents, as well as employees of island businesses who come from the mainland.
Whether it’s paid parking, toll booths or both, Monti said the citizens are demanding that tourists do more to pay their fair share.
“What I keep hearing from citizens is that they are being heavily taxed and everything is free for the tourists,” said Monti. “I don’t think tourists would mind paying for the beautiful beaches if we come up with the right idea, but right now they aren’t paying for anything.”
Monti said just because tourists pay to vacation here, “doesn’t mean you can be disrespectful to the people that live here.”
The committee discussed several other ideas, from bicycle access to traffic flow.
More enforcement of illegal parking already is underway, according to Tokajer.
In April, prior to the commission’s direction to increase enforcement, 66 traffic tickets were written. In May, 225 tickets were issued.