Monday, November 17, 2008

Buck Lee's Wet Dream

"The evil at the core of the plan now endorsed by the News Journal isn't necessarily in the doubling of the bridge toll or the notion of 'improving' the commercial core. It's in the retrograde, unimaginative, fiscally irresponsible and environmentally destructive purpose to which Buck Lee wants to put the added revenue."
Among all those Gannett Publishing Corp. layoffs, apparently one of the victims was the Pensacola News Journal's editorial brain. Once firmly in favor of -- indeed, a community leader in advocating -- sound, ecologically sensible management of Pensacola Beach, the newspaper's reduced circumstances on Sunday has brought it to this sad point:

Then:
Earlier this year we opposed a Santa Rosa Island Authority proposal to raise the Bob Sikes Bridge toll to $2 because we didn't think beach-goers should shoulder the burden of paying for beach improvements.
Now:
Improving and expanding the commercial core of Pensacola Beach could become an economic stimulus that attracts more people and generates much-needed revenue for merchants and the county.
Bear in mind that the 'improvement' and 'expanding' being discussed here is the plan to build three new parking ramps on Pensacola Beach.

Once upon a time the Pensacola News Journal as a community institution recognized that doubling the Bob Sikes bridge toll so the Island Authority could fund Buck Lee's multi-million dollar parking ramp wet dream makes no sense. There are any number of reasons why. Here are just half a dozen of them:
  • It solves a parking problem that doesn't exist 360 days of the year. People who think otherwise are mostly mainlanders who come out to the beach only on the remaining 5 days a year.
  • Buck Lee's plan will throw gobs of public money onto a fragile barrier island that should be retreating from, not hardening against, the constantly-shifting shoreline.
  • Doubling the bridge toll would come at a time when retail businesses, local governments, and families alike are facing a prolonged recession that's likely to become worse than anything since the Great Depression.
  • As past history shows, while higher beach bridge tolls may not discourage new visitors in the first instance, once they've been clipped for tolls every single time they leave and reenter the beach for short trips into town, sufficient numbers of them do not care to repeat the experience.
  • The idea is, in a word, an oily one when we should be looking for more innovative ways of moving people on and off the beach.
  • Even if the toll hike idea weathers the economic storms facing us now, it will add tens of millions of dollars to a beach infrastructure that eventually -- it's 100% guaranteed -- will be damaged or destroyed by hurricanes and lead to renewed, desperate pleas for federal FEMA money to reimburse us for our own foolishness.
For added measure, consider that the parking lot plan is essentially an isolated one, proposing to solve a problem that supposedly affects only Pensacola Beach. Precisely to avoid the often unintended consequences of such ad hoc city planning, the News Journal in past months and years has thumped the tub loudly (and persuasively) for city-county consolidation and stronger regional planning.

Yet, no municipal planning idea says "go it alone" and "status quo" more clearly than building more parking ramps. As the last major study of the needs of Pensacola Beach observed, before leaping into development ideas like this it's wiser and more efficient to first envision what the future of a community should look like:
Once a community has a vision, it can then work together to develop a master plan to achieve this vision. The articulated vision serves as ‘where’ the community wants to be in the future and the master plan provides the action steps and implementation plan to get there
While a select few fans of continuing our addiction to Middle Eastern oil always manage to get sycophantic Pensacola think tanks like the Haas Center and the Whitman Center to include "more parking" in their long lists of recommendations, no one -- not even the think tanks themselves -- ever has come up with hard data to justify building more temporary housing for automobiles as a solution to the 'most pressing' needs on Pensacola Beach.

The evil at the core of the plan now endorsed by the News Journal isn't necessarily in the doubling of the bridge toll or the notion of 'improving' the commercial core. It's in the retrograde, unimaginative, fiscally irresponsible and environmentally destructive purpose to which Buck Lee wants to put the added revenue.

The public need for more beach parking is, at best, ephemeral. Even if one accepts that "improvements" and "expanding" of the commercial core are worthy projects, Lee's plan has it exactly backwards. As the most impressive and successful city make-overs demonstrate -- the skywalks of Minneapolis and Des Moines, the light rail systems of Portland and Morgantown, and the walker-friendly shopping and entertainment areas of Seaside and Seattle -- parking ramps shouldn't be at the core of the plan. If at all needed, they should be tolerated as a mere afterthought.

Traffic studies already prove conclusively that the handful of days on Pensacola Beach when parking is a problem are the days when nearby mainlanders come out in unusually high numbers. Those are times, too, when the neighboring towns of Gulf Breeze and Pensacola as well as all of Highway 98 suffer high volume traffic. Solving the so-called beach parking problem really means biting into the broader problem of Pensacola-Gulf Breeze area transportation challenges.

Wouldn't it make more sense if everyone went back to the drawing board and re-thought the whole issue of travel to, from, and around the commercial core of Pensacola Beach, in and through Gulf Breeze, and across the increasingly burdened 3-mile bridge? What better time to consider a futuristic, Twenty-First Century solution than now, as a new national administration comes into office committed to "change" and dedicated to developing within a decade alternatives, like mass transit, to our dependency on foreign oil?

1 comment:

GlennK said...

Hi! I write a beach blog up here in NJ. It's called @ the Beach. Chk. it out.

http://athebeach.blogspot.com/