The numbers tell one story: there’s no problem along Florida Park Drive. It’s a relatively busy city road, but no busier than roads of its kind. Residents tell a different story: the road is too heavily trafficked, it’s noisy, it’s polluting, and it’s a hazard to residents who live alongside it in close-cropped homes.
Every few years residents raise the issue before the Palm Coast City Council. But there’s been no ready solution for the residents’ perceived problems beyond more speed enforcement. Residents have been complaining again, buoyed by a new city council member’s interest in the issue: Heidi Shipley has been pushing the city administration to study the matter again and present it to the council. That took place Tuesday. But it was no more clarifying than similar exercises had been previously. The council’s 80-minute discussion mirrored traffic on Florida Park Drive: Heavy on whitish noise and apparent direction, but short on relief.
The council wants to help residents along Florida Park Drive, but it isn’t sure there is a solution there that would not also trigger a problem elsewhere. Nor are they too inclined to manufacture a solution for the sake of manufacturing one, without the relative certainty that it would be useful.
“We can assume that there is an issue because we’re having citizen complaints,” McGuire said. “The problem that I’m seeing is, I see a lot of data, I’m used to working with a lot of data, but quite frankly I don’t have the slightest idea of how I can fix this. If we all sat here right now and said by God, we’ve got a problem on Florida Drive that cries out for a solution, I don’t know what it is. That’s my dilemma. I don’t have an issue with collecting data, but if the data doesn’t lead you to a solution, then you’ve just got a whole bunch of data.”
The “desired solution,” Netts said, is less traffic on the road. But getting there is the issue. “You’re not going to make that traffic disappear,” he said. Any diversionary system would dump it somewhere else, creating a collateral problem, unless traffic can be diluted across several other roads.
Florida Park Drive is two miles long carving a 60-foot right of way corridor, including the two 12-foot traffic lanes. The study analyzed speed and traffic-volume data and crash data, when available, among other data.
The heaviest average daily traffic is westbound from Farragut Drive to Palm Coast Parkway, with 8,200 vehicles, and traffic averages at four other locations average between 5,100 and 7,400 vehicles. Truck traffic (excluding pick-ups and SUVs but including school buses and dump trucks) is between 1 and 2 percent of that at the various points. Most vehicles –between 50 and 64 percent—travel the speed limit of 30 to 35 mph, with the stretch from Farragut to Palm Coast Parkway proving to be the one that draws the higher speeds: 5.9 percent of traffic on that stretch travels at 40 mph or faster. Otherwise, fewer than a quarter of drivers go between 35 and 40 mph, and well below 5 percent go faster than 40 percent. (It’s a 30 mph zone.)
Looking to satisfy residents along Florida Park Drive without creating problems for residents along other city streets.
From January 2012 to May 2015, available crash data showed a total of 35 wrecks, six of them collisions with pedestrians, 15 of them rear-end collisions. There were two collisions with fixed objects (such as utility poles or mail boxes, for example) eight wrecks at an angle, and just one head-on collision.
As for the road’s level of service, which is graded according to state standards, is either considered “acceptable” or better.
“How bad is this compared to other streets in the city?” council member Bill McGuire asked. The city has the data and shows heavier traffic in some areas, but those streets’ traffic doesn’t generate as much public backlash—and the city has not conducted a comparative study between Florida Park Drive and those other busy streets. That left council members asking what the numbers say, compared to other streets.
But council member Heidi Shipley stressed the distinctive nature of Florida Park Drive, which is unique in this regard: it’s a collector road (meaning that it accounts for the traffic of many tributary roads alongside it), yet has no buffers on either side despite being heavily populated.
The council has heard numerous suggestions over the years, such as disallowing traffic in certain directions, at certain times, disallowing certain turns, and so on. But Mayor Jon Netts said fixing one perceived issue while creating another—the road equivalent of “robbing Peter to pay Paul”—should not be an option.
“That’s what makes all this very, very difficult,” City Manager Jim Landon said, “is that the technical side doesn’t give you the answers as to what people think about the impact.”
The council also has the option of conducting a more rigorous independent study (but for about $42,000). And it has the option of conducting neighborhood meetings and gather more data. The city administration doesn’t consider a more costly study necessary just now. “We’re saying spending an additional $40,000, we don’t think you’re going to solve the problem with that, and the only way you’re going to change behavior is implementing something,” Landon said. That would mean changing where and how people travel along the way.
“Whether or not we go with another traffic study or not, I want to make sure we share this data with the sheriff’s department,” Netts said, especially the nature of crashes and the speeds being traveled, so that deputies can tailor their patrolling to the numbers. “That’s something we can do right now and it makes good sense.”
“My understanding is,” council member Steven Nobile said, “We’re saying there is no problem on Florida Park Drive.”
“Not from an engineer’s technical standpoint, but the individuals out there believe there are,” Landon said.
“And what about the pollution part of it and the noise part of it?” Shipley asked. But even in those instances, the city manager said, levels of noise and pollution are not considered high if the road’s level of service is considered acceptable: drivers aren’t stopping or idling excessively, for example. Nevertheless, residents along the road would see it differently, Landon concedes.
Nobile wanted to be clear about whether the council itself believes, as he does, that there is a problem along Florida Park Drive. He didn’t get as categorical an answer as he wished: the council didn’t want to appear at odds with the data, either, even as it sympathizes with residents. So it reverted to an old proposal: diverting some traffic.
That seems to be the only realistic problem-solving approach the council was willing to try, assuming traffic models can be put in place to make that happen. City staffers say that’s possible. “We can do that right now, we can implement it today,” Landon said, for example, barricading Florida Park Drive at Palm Harbor, and reducing so-called cut-through traffic there. But as soon as that’s done, unintended consequences follow. “We can give you all the information you want, this isn’t easy,” Landon cautioned. “But you need to go into it with knowledge that you’re going to have consequences here that you aren’t going to hear from those people until it actually happens.”
McGuire liked the doable approach, especially if it can be tried, then repealed if it doesn’t seem to work. Netts wants cut-through data, because he hasn’t heard any suggestion that would reduce local traffic. But neither were convinced that any one solution might resolve what perceived problems exist. “We’ve got a ton of data, we don’t have a ton of solutions,” McGuire said.
The most the council could do Tuesday was agree to discuss the issue again, for any sort of actual decision, including spending some money for a consultant, next Tuesday, at the council’s business meeting, though that’s a 9 a.m. meeting when fewer working people can attend (as opposed to its meeting two weeks subsequently, at 6:30 p.m.).