September 6, 2017

BRIAN BOWDEN/Free Press
FDOT will install a pedestrian bridge across U.S.1 at Founders Park on Plantation Key.

BRIAN BOWDEN/Free Press FDOT will install a pedestrian bridge across U.S.1 at Founders Park on Plantation Key.

ISLAMORADA — Two studies being conducted locally are providing some ideas for dealing with increased traffic and parking issues along U.S. 1, the Old Highway and connecting roads. Whether any will be implemented by the village or are even viable options due to state constraints are to be determined later.

A recent update on both village-funded studies was given to the Village Council, but the final report from each won’t be available until later this year. The studies, which cost the village roughly $60,000 combined, are being conducted by Kittelson & Associates.

One is focused on improving mobility throughout the village, according to Kittelson engineer Benazir Portal, who’s heading the work. Especially on weekends, traffic generally tiptoes through parts of Islamorada that include the Snake Creek Bridge and Upper Matecumbe Key.

Data provided by the Florida Department of Transportation going back to 2005 show that the heaviest traffic in the village typically takes place in October and November. But most crashes have occurred in March, May and July.

“The number of crashes has been continually increasing over the last five years,” Portal noted.

Twenty-one fatal crashes occurred in Islamorada between 2005 and 2015, according to the data.

“And taking risky maneuvers either by using Old Highway as a cut-through street or using the middle lane [of U.S. 1] as an acceleration or passing lane creates a significant safety concern,” Portal said about some of the problems that contribute to these crashes.

Ideas presented for deterring vehicles from sidestepping U.S. 1 during periods of backup include installing speed tables on the Old Highway; shared advisory lanes, which operate as a bike path but can also be used by vehicles merging into traffic; and chicanes, which are structures that create a narrowing or curve in the road to cause drivers to slow down.

As for ideas to keep traffic on U.S. 1 moving, Portal talked about changes that mostly called for new turn lanes. This included right-hand turn lanes as well as left-hand removable turn lanes, which can be removed during evacuations.

Most of the work that the village might be interested in pursuing on would likely have to be in conjunction with Monroe County and/or FDOT, according to Portal.

“If we can create a situation where [traffic] moves even if it’s slow moving, it’s not so upsetting,” Councilwoman Cheryl Meads said.

The other study being conducted by Kittelson is a master parking plan for Islamorada that connects residents and visitors with designated parking areas and popular hangouts, which they say could also create less congestion on the roads.

One idea brought up in the study included the village using vacant land it owns as parking areas.

It could then implement bike- or golf cart-sharing programs at these designated locations. Both operate through stations that allow payment of use through a credit card machine onsite. And then can be returned at the same or other stations located around town.

Other ideas to shuffle people around town while cutting down on traffic included contracting with ridesharing programs to operate in town, establishing a trolley system and using water taxis.

Walkability was also a key part of this study.

Kittelson suggested using traffic calming measures on the Old Highway and connecting roads would make certain areas more welcoming to pedestrians and bikers. Ideas included adding mini roundabouts, pinch points, raised crosswalks and splitter islands. Decreasing U.S. 1 speed limits in areas such as downtown Islamorada on Upper Matecumbe Key was also brought up.

Data showed a direct correlation between the highest auto crash sites in Islamorada and bike crash sites. Spots included around Coral Shores High School and the neighborhoods south of there, Theater of the Sea and the restaurants around Whale Harbor Bridge, and the Morada Way Arts and Cultural District on Upper Matecumbe Key.

Representatives from Kittelson are expected to return later this month for an open house forum where they’ll take input from the board as well as the public. In October, a final presentation will be given. Then the final report will be ready in November.

Aside from the Kittelson studies, the village just recently learned it is the recipient of a FDOT-funded pedestrian overpass to be installed at Founders Park. The idea behind the structure is to create fewer backups on U.S. 1 during busy events that require pedestrians to cross the road there.

bbowden@keysnews.com