Saturday, March 06, 2010

Beach Solution in Search of a Problem

Reporter Kimberly Blair covered yesterday's SRIA meeting about the latest beach re-do plan. ["Beach's Future Cloudy"] Her lede resonates with most beach residents and businesses in attendance: "Slow down. Scale down. And too expensive."
[M]any people were concerned about committing so much money to beach improvements during tough economic times, especially when the beach is just now recovering economically from Hurricane Ivan in 2004.
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Beach resident Jeff Marker supports beach improvements, but questioned the wisdom of sinking the Bob Sikes Bridge deeper into debt with a proposal to pay for the improvements with a loan on the bridge. The loan would be paid back with about $3 million a year generated through a $1 toll increase.
Even members of the "committee that spent nearly six months working with EDSA to create the plan" have serious reservations, Blair reports.

The most serious objection voiced was about the newly-proposed elevated roadway which would cost more than half of the estimated $46 million project. In a surprising surrender to reality, SRIA general manager Buck Lee and the consultants recently reversed themselves to acknowledge that any 'parking problem' on Pensacola Beach occurs so seldom it doesn't require a parking garage.

The latest iteration of a "beach re-do" plan calls for an elevated roadway instead (not a pedestrian bridge). 'Gotta have us a monument, somewhere, somehow, of some kind,' someone must be insisting.

Beach resident Don Paro, however, spoke for many when he argued "spending $24 million of the $46 million price tag on 'two-tenths of a mile of road' in the core area" doesn't make sense.

Other aspects of the plan attracted much more public support. Pedestrian pathways, a convenient passage from the Sound to the Gulf, and reconfiguring traffic flow patterns in the central business district lead the list.

The worst that was said about three proposed round-abouts to ease traffic flow is that drunken drivers will have trouble navigating them. Only on Pensacola Beach could anyone seriously imply that street designs should be accessible to the alcohol-impaired.

The over-arching problem, as we see it, is that the so-called "re-do" of Pensacola Beach is a solution in search of a problem. Central to any planning effort must be a clearly perceived problem and then a set of specific objectives designed to solve that problem. Every design feature proposed then should be rigorously measured against the objectives.

We're not sure there's any agreement on what the "re-do" is supposed to do. Indeed, it's plain that the "problem" -- and therefore the objectives of the "re-do plan" -- have been dramatically redefined in just the last two months.

Beginning years ago and up until a few weeks ago, the "problem" was the supposed lack of parking on the beach; the proposed solution was a parking garage. Now, the problem isn't parking, it is -- what? Improve traffic flow? Enhance pedestrian access from the Sound to the Gulf? Develop an elegant garden spot to rival the Alhambra in the central core with $3 million worth of new vegetation? Open new and broader vistas to the Gulf? Protect drunken drivers?

Look, Panama City has its honky-tonk bars and skin joints. Destin has its skyscraper condos, shopping malls, over-priced schlock-art galleries, and traffic jams. Perdido Key has its wall-to-wall high rises and strip malls.

We think it very probable that most tourists come to Pensacola Beach because they find it quaint, relatively slow-paced and under-developed. Our most important assets are the gifts of Nature and the still-broad expanse of accessible beaches. That's what makes us a "family oriented" vacation spot. Things that enhance that theme -- Ft. Pickens, the fishing pier, the airy Casino Beach pavilion and concert area, the picnic areas along the Sound and at Ft. Pickens Gate-- are enhancements compatible with those assets.

For many years, the SRIA architectural committee did a respectable job of seeing that commercial construction also was reasonably compatible with Nature and beach preservation. No unsightly neon signs, no garishly-painted business facades. To be sure, they slipped up now and again with high rise condos blocking public views and beach access, but the core assets remain largely as we've described.

The road re-do in the mid-1990's was badly planned, however. It impedes, rather than aids, pedestrian traffic and easy beach access from Sound to Gulf. Now that the SRIA has embraced the reality that a parking garage is totally unnecessary, perhaps the island government can re-focus on just those aspects of the latest EDSA "re-do" design that preserve and enhance our quaint, slow-paced, and thankfully under-developed assets.

It might not result in a $46 million construction contract (sure to become $65 million before it's done). Nor should it mean building a 2/10ths of a mile-long concrete monument for someone to consider a feather in his hat. It might even require lower expenditures that are actually within our means and don't require a doubling of the bridge toll.

But it parts of the plan can solve a real problem while preserving the best of Pensacola Beach and what makes it unique and attractive to visitors, residents, and businesses alike.

edit 3-6 am

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The News Journal likes the $24 mil car overpass. WHY????