Palm Coast doesn’t have a Ganges river or a Lady of Lourdes, but it does have Florida Park Drive: two miles of two-laned macadam that weaves through a dense residential zone and denser complaints about traffic, noise and air quality over the years, ritualistically beguiling city council members’ search for solutions every few years. So far, solutions have been as elusive as the Ganges’ purity.
Today, it was the reconstituted Palm Coast council’s turn to deal with it (though one of its two newly elected members–Eddie Braquinho–was absent). “The struggle frankly is how do we solve a very complex issue,” Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland said.
This time, council members agreed to do more than talk.
They want to monitor air quality at Holland Park and one other location along the road, and to do so possibly indefinitely. They want to look into landscaping the road to beautify it more. And they want to study traffic calming solutions, including the possibility of speed bumps, traffic islands or traffic circles. “Landscaping and traffic calming has an opportunity to work hand in hand,” said R. Sans Lassiter, president of the Lassiter Transportation Group, one of the city’s consultants.
Not to worry: before any of that takes place, there would be neighborhood meetings to gauge public sentiment. The cost of all that is not clear: a fuller study by the city’s consultant would have cost $66,000, but the scope of work council members are looking for is narrower, so the cost will be less. It’ll be figured out in the next few weeks. The cost of air sensors is also not clear, though it’ll be in the range of $11,000 to $15,000, possibly less, depending on whether the city buys some of the equipment or uses that of a consultant.
Neither city council members nor their consultants expect to see alarming numbers in air quality, which has been a recurring concern among residents, but mostly because of an absence of fresh data. Several years ago the city found that CO2 levels on Florida Park Drive were below standard limits of air quality. Most areas in the state don’t have an air-quality problem (as opposed to, for example, Jacksonville, where idled cars increase emissions).
“We ought to measure it because I think we owe it to the community to confirm what we suspect,” Council member Bob Cuff said. “But I don’t see the need to spend a lot of money on a special purpose monitoring network just for Florida Park Drive, to measure air quality on a continuous basis.”
Florida Park Drive is unique in Palm Coast. “I’ve got developers today who are trying to build neighborhoods just like this, with very long, one to two-mile long internal roadways, with driveways every 50 to 100 feet,” Lassiter said, “and I try to tell them, don;t do that because what you’re going to end up with is residents on either end of this roadway who see all this traffic driving by that they know is not from the area, is driving through the area. That’s why in general, in urban design, you don’t put a lot of roadway on collector roads.” For the most part, that has not occurred in Palm Coast. “This one street is the exception.”
Some of the road is commercial, some residential. The city last conducted a traffic study in 2015–some crash data, speeds, traffic intensity. The council had options, including taking the study to a further phase–conducting neighborhood meetings, develop alternative routes to reduce traffic flow through Florida Park Drive, conduct further analysis of neighboring roads. The council found at the time that the road operated at an acceptable level of service, and declined to go forward with further action.
Complaints have continued. Holland said the problems in Florida Park Drive aren’t imagined. There’s no “magic solution” (Holland asked Lassiter for one, there was none), but there may be a cluster of smaller, more manageable approaches.
Council member Nick Klufas said the only solutions he sees are as “drastic” as they are unrealistic, like cutting Florida Park in half, which he also called “ridiculous.” But he suggested installing inexpensive, stationary air-monitoring equipment that could alert the city to any sudden, unhealthy spikes. Otherwise, he doesn’t see a broader solution that would be easy to implement. Council member Jack Howell concurred, along with further study.
Cuff had some interest in community meetings and suggested something that Palm Coast and Flagler County residents have generally associated with demons: traffic circles, cousins of roundabouts, which he said “would slow down traffic without necessarily impeding it too much.” To Cuff, the issue is pass-through traffic. On the other hand, traffic circles or speed-bumps would aggravate local residents. That’s why studying the matter would be worth it, he said.
“I think the real problem in the minds of the people that come before us all the time is there’s too many cars on Florida Park Drive,” Cuff said. “The only thing that’s going to alter that would be making it less convenient to drive down Florida Park Drive. In my mind that means some kind of what we could call traffic calming, but let’s call them speed bumps.”
Cuff added, irresistibly: “The only thing we can do to make the volume of traffic on Florida Park Drive lower than it is now is, pardon my French because I know this is a public meeting, piss off hundreds or thousands of people that use Florida Park Drive on a regular basis. If that results in a net improvement, I think it’s our job as a city council to consider those alternatives. But to me the only way you could consider them is with neighborhood meetings and with possible solutions or possible changes to the roadway that I’d certainly want to get professional advice on.”
Or “speed tables” such as those that regularly demolish vehicles’ suspensions in Town Center.
In that regard, Holland found the next step, with its spending, a justifiable expense, including air monitoring.
“I don’t suspect that we would see readings that are in the range where it would require immediate action or remediation,” Klufas said. “But I do think it would give the community that has spoken out about this topic a little bit more of a sense of peace, that at least we’re not spiking to levels that could be potentially dangerous for individuals that are outside breathing this air most frequently, which is probably the people that are utilizing Holland Park.”
A council decision on a clearer scope of work is expected in about three weeks.