Nothing was off the table at a June 19 Coalition of Barrier Island Elected Officials meeting at Holmes Beach City Hall when the topic came to relieving traffic congestion on the island.
From toll booths to the creation of party buses, many ideas were discussed, but elected officials from Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach and Longboat Key said they want more ideas from the public.
CBIEO officials ended the discussion with one determined decision: to create a public focus group.
Holmes Beach Mayor Carmel Monti will spearhead the creation of the group, and citizens from the island-key cities and of all expertise levels are encouraged to sign up by contacting Monti. Call 941-708-5800, ext. 227, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
CBIEO meetings often are focused on islandwide issues, but seldom does the group come together to take action, according to second-term Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen, who suggested citizen input be part of the discussion.
“In the past, this has not been an effective group, but we have an opportunity to be more effective,” she said. “Things tend to get talked about here and they die here.”
Peelen said if the island cities and Longboat Key are going to accomplish something, then citizens from all four communities should be involved in the process.
Longboat Key Mayor Jim Brown said his city often uses citizen input when addressing complicated issues.
“We have a lot of retired residents and all of them retired from a variety of industries,” he said. “The level of expertise we receive from citizens has been amazing.”
Possible solutions to easing traffic on the island are plentiful, but coming up with solutions that won’t create more problems is challenging.
“We really have to address this together, as we should do everything,” said Brown. “I don’t know if we have a solution.”
LBK Commissioner Jack Duncan said there is always a lot of talk about traffic, but little is addressed on the impaired movement of emergency vehicles.
“And that is a critical issue,” said Duncan. “When an ambulance is sitting in bridge traffic or congestion for a multitude of issues, it is a serious matter.”
Monti said the free trolley system is a potential cause for traffic congestion and suggested Manatee County consider employing smaller trolleys. He said smaller trolleys could pull off the road to collect and discharge passengers, allowing other vehicles to continue.
Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said the smaller trolleys break down more than the larger ones.
“That’s why they went to the bigger ones,” she said.
Monti also revisited the idea of pursuing a toll booth on the bridges to the island.
Monti said Sanibel Island is charging $12 at its toll booth and also charges $2 an hour for public parking at the beaches.
“I don’t know if we want to go that far,” he said. “I don’t know if a toll booth would minimize traffic.”
New Anna Maria Commissioner Doug Copeland said the discussion to keep traffic off the island would not be fruitful as long as the Manatee County Tourist Development Council continues “to spend a fortune to attract visitors.”
Copeland said it was like “beating our heads against the wall. We are saying we want all these people to come, but saying we don’t want you to come.”
He also suggested a toll booth on the island bridges “would create more problems than it would solve.
“If everyone has to stop and pay a toll, it’s going to create a roadblock on those roads that is far worse than the cars coming on the island now,” he said.
Whitmore said a toll booth has been discussed for years.
“The money goes to the state, not the county or cities,” she said.
Monti said he isn’t thinking of a toll booth to generate revenue, but rather an option to alleviate traffic.
A park-and-ride transit system also was discussed, but Whitmore said it was another idea that has been tossed around for years. She said agreements with property owners on 75th Street and Manatee Avenue were never solidified.
There is a free “beach bus” that runs on Manatee Avenue on the weekends.
Holmes Beach Commissioner Marvin Grossman said if a park-and-ride system was created, it may still be difficult to get people to ride the buses.
“You would need to make it fun for people to leave their cars and get on a bus,” he said. “Maybe you could serve beer and wine and have music.”
Water-taxi services are in development, but officials agreed that it would take a package of ideas to make an impact on traffic.
Peelen said before solutions could be considered, officials need to target the problem.
“You have the in-season type of traffic that is unbearable and there is nothing we can do about that,” she said. “Then we have the weekend and holiday traffic and, thirdly, you have our residents. I’m not sure whether we need to address that or not.”
Monti said nothing was off the table.
“Like everything in marketing, you throw it out there and see what people will buy,” he said. “By offering the option, you find out soon enough whether it will work.”
From grocery delivery service to providing free bicycles, officials left few stones unturned in their options to keep as many vehicles off the road as possible.
Duncan said, “There won’t be a single answer to all of these things. I feel very strongly this has to be a package of things, but do we have the infrastructure to handle some of these ideas? You start looking at these solutions and then you realize you have more problems.”
Peelen said there are some actions the island cities could take now.
“We have limited options as far as what we can physically do by ourselves,” she said. “What we haven’t done is for all four cities to create a campaign to take the trolley. Leave the car, ride your bike. It should be an islandwide campaign to encourage people to leave their cars.”
Monti said the mayors of the four cities are expected to hold their first joint meeting in the first week of July and signs encouraging public transit will be at the top of the discussion list.
“We would like an addition of signage that says something like ‘Why are you sitting in traffic when you could be taking the trolley for free?’ But we have to have the infrastructure in place and the availability of people getting out of their cars at a park-and-ride site. I don’t see any downside to expanding the trolley and water-taxi systems,” he said.