After attending all of the Mobility Master Plan briefings and sitting in on the Wednesday Advisory Task Force session, I wanted to share some impressions and a few guesses:
The consultant (Littlejohn) appears to be focused on the Plaza de la Constitucion and the areas immediately adjacent. On Wednesday and Thursday even before they had gathered data or interviewed "stakeholders," they were zeroed-in on this admittedly central, but still small part of the city. I was expecting a more "open funnel," city-wide perspective at the start of this process. If I lived in Fullerwood, Davis Shores or West Augustine, I'd be asking, "Hey! What about us?"
The Advisory Task Force meeting was dominated by those with business interests with Ponte Vedra resident Rich Goldman stating unambiguously, "I represent the tourism industry." Well, thanks for clearing THAT up.
There is a surprisingly strong emphasis on "streetscapes" and landscape architecture. Not what I expected in a mobility study. While we all want pleasant vistas, the cynic in me fears this "streetscape" emphasis might foreshadow more tourism-focused beautification outcomes such as the recent Hypolita/Spanish St brick paving project. If it does, pray we do not lose another historic structure in the process.
Of the two task force members who reside south of King ST, one appears singularly focused on bicycles and the other was very quiet. If you live south of King ST, this might concern you. Who will speak for Old City South and Lincolnville where about one fifth of the city's population lives and whose residents are directly and inescapably impacted by decisions on downtown mobility?
This is purely conjuncture, but early focus on the Plaza in the initial briefings and emphasis on its historic role as a public space, might foreshadow a recommendation to remove all of the parking spaces from around the Plaza to enable "flow." Again, this is just conjecture.
If the above is true, the removal of precious downtown parking spaces from the Plaza to open the flow of traffic then sets up an argument for restoring them with a downtown parking garage. Recalling the City Manager's recent statement about the business community wanting a parking facility "south of King ST" and his supportive words, this sets up the case for the downtown garage rather nicely. It may also explain why nobody from Old City South is on the task force. This, too, is only conjecture (but pretty Machiavellian though, huh?).
When it was pointed out to the consultant on Thursday that the city's population is essentially the same as it was in 1950 which means the congestion is almost entirely due to "visitors," he responded that people wanting to come to St Augustine is a good problem to have and that the mobility study had to account for their needs (see the conjecture above). In response to a question on Friday, he seemed to place much more emphasis on keeping St Augustine a "livable city" for its residents.
The Friday presentation, billed as "Littlejohn presenting some of their initial findings" and scheduled for two hours, lasted about 30 minutes including introductions and Q&A. I'm not sure what changed between when the city website schedule was posted and today at 1:00 PM, but what we heard today was pretty much a rehash of Thursday's presentation with a brief mention of Anastasia Blvd and little more process information tacked on. There were no "initial findings" shared. Not sure what to make of this, but whoever created that schedule was not using the same playbook as the consultant.
Separate from the meetings, we learned on Wednesday that two task force members, Ryan Carter and Rob Matthews share a small office building at 7 Waldo ST. Their offices are two doors apart (see photo). While I'm sure they are both great people and talented professionals, didn't anyone in City Hall think about the potential "sunshine" law challenges having both of these folks on the task force? Mr. Matthews' company you may recall, has existing service contracts with the City, so he already has a direct conflict of interest. In a city of 14,000 people you'd think we could find two professionals who don't park next to each other every day. Just say'in...
So, we close Mobility Master Plan kick-off week bewildered that our city's leadership has ignored the conflicts of interest on the Advisory Task Force and puzzled that the consultant seems focused on a small piece of the city. Despite that, we're still hopeful this process and our $200,000+ investment will lead to some great solutions!
Where will it all lead? Stay tuned. The next Advisory Task Force meeting is July 6th.