Friday, July 25, 2008

City's July 4 traffic control questioned By U.S. REP. CLIFF STEARNS Washington, D.C.

City's July 4 traffic control questioned

Washington, D.C.
Publication Date: 07/25/08

My family and I attended the Fourth of July celebration in St. Augustine, and as with so many, we really enjoyed the fireworks. Unfortunately, this wonderful event was ruined by the extreme difficulties we, along with thousands of others, found in leaving the celebration.

I had parked our car near the Castillo de San Marcos where I thought there was legal parking. At approximately 9:45 p.m. we prepared to leave in order to avoid the traffic crush at the end of the fireworks. The show appeared to continue for another 5 minutes and around 9:50 p.m. people began lining up to leave the parking lot.

To our dismay, we learned that the mayor's office had instructed police to put padlocks on the exit gates for the parking lots. I assumed that the police would open the gates after the fireworks. I sought out the police to find out when the gates would open.

I found two officers in a vehicle at the end of the lot and said that it had been around 25 minutes since the show ended. They responded that the gates would stay locked for 45 minutes to an hour to allow pedestrians to get by. This begs the question how can you lock down traffic in St. Augustine when the goal is to disperse it? Even if people got to their vehicles, they could not move through the entire city.

After a Gator (football) game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium with 92,000 people, the fans disperse relatively quickly without a vehicle lock down. After attending Super Bowls in Miami and Phoenix, I found that we could leave the area in our cars in a very short time. In Washington, D.C., the fireworks normally attract more than 500,000 people and traffic is never locked down. And the area of the fireworks is smaller than your city. It occurs between the Washington Monument and the Capital.

The fact that there was no notification that our cars would be locked down was especially frustrating. Once the locks were removed, we were all funneled into one lane in front of the "Ripley's Believe it or Not!'' museum. Although the Bridge of Lions was open at this time, the police barricades directed all traffic north at the intersection in front of the Ripley's. Barricades were up prevent traffic to the bridge.

I respectfully asked three officers to consider removing the barricades at 10:30 p.m. so that traffic could access the bridge, which was open. After 10 minutes, the barricades were finally removed, and after waiting 30 minutes, the cars made U-turns at the museum. None of the traffic lights were set to allow exit of the traffic. All traffic was funneled onto a single lane at a stoplight. People were waiting more than 30 minutes to go 10 feet.

I urge city government to contact other cities of a similar size to find a better way to handle traffic without locking down our vehicles. I wonder if it is even legal for city government to lock down vehicles without our consent if we are parked legally.

Again, I urge the city to correct this situation for the people of St. Augustine and for the thousands who visit this wonderful city in anticipation of a good time.


Cliff Stearns, of Ocala, represents Florida's Sixth Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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