Many residents of Key West are asking the same question: When is enough enough?
Whether it’s by car or truck, plane or, now that Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed off on the cruise ship bill, bigger and bigger boats, Key West seems to be reaching capacity between residents and tourists. This has resulted in greater instances of damage and death along our main artery, U.S. 1, and the heavily-traveled roadways such as North and South Roosevelt boulevards, Truman Avenue and, of course, Duval Street; unreasonable wait times at the Key West International Airport and greater responsibility on law enforcement to protect our waterways.
And did we mention our quality of life?
Right after U.S. 1 was shut down at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, there was something magical about Key West. It was quiet, the air seemed fresher, the birds were chirping, the surrounding waters were clear and, of course, the town was practically empty. That was when the community started talking about the city needing a reset. Social media groups popped up offering ideas and suggestions how to accomplish this, focusing on improving residents’ quality of life while also helping the business community survive.
Once the highway was re-opened, tourism returned, and again residents questioned their quality of life as the Southernmost City suddenly had too much traffic, too many pedestrians, not enough parking. The pandemic caused many businesses to shut down and some to leave permanently, and along with them went many service industry staff. Add in a white-hot real estate market, creating a housing shortage (already an issue in Key West), and you have a recipe for disaster.
That’s where local leadership comes in; the responsibility to look at our island chain’s need falls largely to government, both city and county. And The Key West Citizen, as the Monroe County newspaper of record, shares in that responsibility, along each and every resident.
In an effort to provide suggestions for direction of the Florida Keys, The Citizen will offer occasional editorials — like this one — that look at particular issues facing Key West and the Florida Keys and offer possible solutions in some cases.
Let’s take a look at downtown and Duval Street.
Do we need a consultant to help us re-imagine Duval Street? Without any help, over the decades we’ve managed to create one of the most desirable destinations in the country. And, besides the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, it all centers around Duval Street.
When the city was shut down, you could drive down Duval and easily identify the issues that could be changed to improve the ambience of our main street: numerous, untended kiosks abound; Dumpsters, trash cans and recycling containers at storefronts; the homeless taking shelter in spaces between buildings and sleeping on open sidewalks, to name a few.
Duval is one street, one mile long; it seems that with a little planning, regulations and enforcement, and some outside-of-the-box efforts, many of those issues could be resolved. One such idea was the Mall on Duval, which closed off a three-block section of the street to vehicles and allowed residents and visitors alike to enjoy all the street has to offer, including sidewalk cafes and store owners using creative displays to offer their wares.
Key West City Commissioners are working on plans to keep sidewalk cafes alive; in the process, the discussion of closing off Duval Street to vehicular traffic should be a starting point. A quick walk down the street proves there’s not enough room for both the cafes and pedestrians without closing off the road to vehicles. And the exorbitant number of visitors to the city currently makes walking along the sidewalk itself a challenge.
A solution? Possibly. Worth a discussion? Certainly.
The Citizen welcomes the thoughts of our community on these issues. As space and time allow, we will publish letters in response to our editorials. Due to space limitations, however, letters must be 350 words or fewer. Use our online submission form (under Online Services), or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Citizen doesn’t guarantee publication of all submissions.