Island officials drive unity to battle traffic woes

As island officials look at how best to battle traffic problems, there’s general agreement it will take unity to develop solutions.

Holmes Beach Mayor Carmel Monti, at the Sept. 18 meeting of the Barrier Island Elected Officials Coalition, discussed his plan for paid parking at the Manatee Public Beach. He said he’s had positive discussions with the county in moving that proposal forward, he said.

A committee is consider options that include a parking garage at or near the beach, establishing overflow parking areas and permit parking.

“I’m getting good feedback and in the process of putting together a proposal that I will bring to the city commission and then move it forward to the county,” said Monti.

Holmes Beach also has discussed “click in, click out” bicycle stations, as well as privately-run Segway and golf cart rentals.

“The whole idea is to have a place for people to park for the whole day, but to leave their car there while they walk or ride a bike around the city,” Monti said.

Anna Maria also is looking at a possible combination of solutions that includes paid parking, “but we are going about it a little differently,” said Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn. The commission already addressed parking in rights of way, she said, and she will be making a parking plan presentation to commissioners Sept. 24.

SueLynn said the proposal would feature options that run the gamut of two parking permits per property, annual passes and paid parking.

She said because some properties have multiple owners, permits would be limited to the property and not property owners. She also said passes may be tiered for people who live on the island, in Manatee County and out of county.

“We also are looking at daily passes and permits,” she said, while keeping open several free parking areas. The number of free spaces would meet the requirement to remain eligible for beach renourishment funding, she said.

“But the most important thing is that we have to work together,” said SueLynn. “If one city is going to have paid parking, it means that city may be creating a burden on another city because people are going to go where there is free parking first.”

Holmes Beach officials have suggested doing more to encourage people to go to Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach, which has the largest parking lot on the island with an estimated 1,200 spaces.

Bradenton Beach officials were not receptive to the suggestion, as the city, along with Longboat Key to the south, have plenty of their own traffic and parking issues, according to their mayors.

Bradenton Beach Commissioner Ric Gatehouse also wants to see more use of Coquina Beach, and free beach parking is key to his proposed parking plan.

“The thrust of my plan is to encourage people to park in Coquina to relieve stress of our neighborhoods and municipal lots,” said Gatehouse. “I would be opposed to any suggestion that the county impose paid parking at the public beaches.”

Gatehouse’s plan is contrary to the Anna Maria proposal. Gatehouse wants to charge for parking at municipal lots to encourage people to use free parking at the beach to alleviate congestion and parking on Bridge Street and in neighborhoods.

“My plan hinges on you can pay to park in our lots or you can park for free at Coquina,” he said. “My recommendation is that I will fight any paid parking there. We all want to encourage people to use that as an alternative means.”

Meanwhile, traffic flow from Bradenton Beach to Longboat Key has been growing in intensity, according to both Bradenton Beach Mayor John Shaughnessy and Longboat Key Mayor Jim Brown.

Using Coquina Beach to alleviate local traffic is being well received, but diverting traffic from Holmes Beach to Bradenton Beach could exacerbate traffic problems, according to some officials.

If Holmes Beach succeeds in having paid parking at Manatee Public Beach and Coquina remains free, the two cities could be in conflict of one another’s goals.

SueLynn said that’s why all four cities need to unify and approach the county as a group.

She suggested that the BIEO extend an invitation to Manatee County administrator Ed Hunzeker to attend its Oct. 16 meeting in Holmes Beach.

Brown agreed, saying “The problem with the county and the Manatee County Tourist Development Council and others is that we don’t have a lot of voice individually. We need to work together and unify as a barrier island.”

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