Note: This story first published last year. Little has changed other than the frequency of the shuttles, which will be increased this year.
The Flagler Beach Independence Day fireworks show stands out for a few reasons. It is the region’s most picturesque, oldest, most storied and best-attended show. (Palm Coast’s show is drawing ever-larger crowds, but Town Center can’t compete with the Flagler Beach pier, the ocean, the dunes and the old town’s romance factor.)
But the Flagler Beach show also stands out for a less appealing reason: the 20-minute show is followed by a 150-minute nightmare for all those trying to drive back to the mainland. Other than driving north or south on State Road A1A, there’s only one exit. That’s the Flagler Beach bridge.
For the first time in the city’s history, however, Flagler Beach is providing free shuttles all day July 4, starting at 8 a.m. and ending at 11 p.m., and free parking on the mainland, at the old Food Lion parking lot—that is, the Flagler Square shopping center—as well as on the island, at Santa Maria Del Mar Church, just north of downtown.
Larry Newsom, the Flagler Beach city manager, continues to impress his city commission six months into the job. Providing shuttles to ease traffic had been “vaguely” talked about in the past, Commission Chairwoman Jane Mealy said, and may have been tried by Newsom’s predecessors, without success. Newsom got it done with a few phone calls, arranging the free transportation through Palm Coast Transportation Services, the eight-year-old high-end transportation company best known locally for serving the Hammock Beach Resort, shuttling people to the races in Daytona Beach and providing travel to airports.
It’s free to visitors, but it’s not free to the city. The city is paying $2,950 for the day-long service. “We’re going to have to pay, but they’re giving us a really good deal,” Newsom said. (The expense did not have to be ratified by the city commission as it falls below the $20,000 threshold and within the city manager’s discretionary judgment. But commissioners were informed of the expense.)
One 56-passenger motor coach, one minibus, one van, and I’ll be in an SUV to coordinate
“It could be more of a positive experience if it wasn’t for the traffic jams of people.”
Santos Rodriguez, who owns Palm Coast Transportation and will be coordinating the day and evening’s shuttling Monday, said his company will provide a motor coach or large bus, one minibus, one van, and Rodriguez’s own SUV for most of the day, with additional vehicles, including an additional motor coach, ready for service if necessary. The Number of vehicles means that people at either end of the shuttle route will not have to wait much for a ride.
“It could be more of a positive experience if it wasn’t for the traffic jams of people,” Rodriguez said. “There should be no problem going in and out, because there’s not as big a demand for the parade as there is for the fireworks at night.” The additional motor coach will be in the mix at night.
People will be picked up and dropped off at the Food Lion on the mainland, and picked up or dropped off in front of Veterans Park on the island. More precisely, the buses returning to the mainland will pick up passengers in front of Veterans Park, travel “west on South 2nd Street to South Flagler Avenue, where they’ll turn right and then turn left onto SR100; westbound back to the parking area,” Flagler Beach Capt. Matthew Doughney said.
There are 220 parking spots at the Food Lion: the spaces will be roped off for use, leaving many spaces to be used for existing businesses there. (Food Lion has been closed for years.) On the island, Santa Maria Del Mar will provide 370 parking spaces, Newsom said—after the staging of the parade. Participants in the parade use the church’s property to prepare before the 10 a.m. parade. There will not be shuttle transportation from the church to downtown, however, as the distance is rather short.
“Anybody who has a mobility disability, wheelchair or otherwise,” Newsom said, “they can part on the south side of City Hall, that whole area will be set up for handicapped. That’s where the employee parking is, but that’ll all be set up for handicapped.”
Newsom ad others will also be providing as-needed transportation, even from the church parking lot, in golf carts, especially to older people or disabled people.
“I think it’s terrific,” Mealy said of Newsom. “He stepped right up and made arrangements for more parking at the church on the island. I think it’s great. I hope people take advantage of it. No matter what you do there’ll often be people who’ll want to park right in front of where they’re going.”
There hasn’t been much advertising of the new parking arrangements, but signs will point the way to the Food Lion parking lot in hopes of enticing people to take advantage of the offer.
“I think it’s a fine idea if people will accept the idea,” Rick Belhumeur, a Flagler Beach city commissioner, said. “I’m not too sure how many people without some beforehand notice will utilize it, especially across the bridge. But for those that don’t like sitting in those lines for a couple of hours to get out of there and they have some notice, maybe they’ll utilize it.”