In contrast with traffic on Florida Park Drive, finding a solution to residents’ complaints about the road has not been speedy. But however slow the efforts–the city has been discussing the issue since 2015–they appear to be moving toward conclusive, visible, audible enforceable changes.
The city is proposing to restrict or ban heavy truck traffic on Florida Park Drive, with a $200 penalty for violators. It is preparing to enforce the rule with a new ordinance. And it is proposing a set of traffic-calming and landscaping changes that would combine aesthetics with safety, but not at a minor cost. But talk of using license-plate readers as part of the possible enforcement mechanism at this morning’s Palm Coast City Council workshop was not only premature: it was in error.
It was the first time that such enforcement measures as license-plate readers, which scan all license plates passing a certain zone of the sheriff’s choosing, was discussed, raising legal implications the council did not consider: license-plate readers are used for criminal enforcement or finding missing persons, not code enforcement.
Their use for routine traffic enforcement would vastly expand the sheriff’s reach and recall the days of red-light traffic cameras, which Palm Coast installed in 2007 and illegally enforced through code enforcement fines: the Florida Supreme Court ruled such cameras illegal, when outside of state-law protocols. (The city adopted the state protocols and eventually abandoned the cameras altogether, after a series of legal issues and public reprimands about the city’s overzealousness by two local judges.) Sheriff Rick Staly is not interested in using license plate readers to that end. But city officials appeared unaware when they discussed the matter this morning.
“Is there any conversation around working with the sheriff’s department for license plate readers, those sorts of things?” Mayor Milissa Holland asked during this morning’s discussion.
“We have been coordinating with Flagler County Sheriff’s Office,” City Manager Matt Morton said. “we’ve in fact reviewed the most current draft of the ordinance. Also in advance of that they have practically gone out and contacted other communities and they’re looking how LPRs, license-plate readers, and other enforcement strategies pay the highest dividends, and that’s an active project they’re currently working on. In fact I got an update this morning on that from Cmdr. David Williams who’s been taking the lead on that. So yes, very robust approach on how we get significant gains at enforcement at meeting full compliance.”
But when asked about any use of license plate readers on Florida Park Drive–other than through current protocols, which don’t target the road itself or its users–Brittany Kershaw, the sheriff’s spokesperson, was adamant. “LPRs will not be used to assist with traffic enforcement or the new truck ordinance. That has never been a direction the SO was considering,” Kershaw said.
“LPRs are not a code enforcement tool and there are no intentions on changing that. LPRs are a crime fighting tool, period.”
Asked if they would be used in any way on the road other than during specified operations (such as scanning for stolen vehicles or missing persons), Kershaw said: “LPRs are not a code enforcement tool and there are no intentions on changing that. LPRs are a crime fighting tool, period. Sheriff Staly has asked the city to provide him a copy of the draft ordinance so he and his general counsel can review.”
Morton this afternoon said he had misspoken at the meeting. “The sheriff has been unequivocal, it’s not anything he wants any part of,” Morton said after a phone call from Staly that was apparently prompted by FlaglerLive’s questions to the Sheriff’s Office. Morton said the discussions in house had centered on “IP cameras” that might have been used to pick up patterns or analyze what problem may exist. “It wouldn’t be a law enforcement camera.” He said Williams had been involved in the process regarding the ordinance itself. “Dave Williams had review it in terms of enforceability, how the ordinance is crafted in such a way to cite people, is it enforceable. ”
That question is still unclear and being worked on. The weight limit of trucks could also be an issue, at least for local drivers.
At the workshop this morning, the City Council gave its approval for changes that will affect Florida Park Drive after the latest update on traffic conditions, air and noise pollution on the road by Sans Lassiter, the consultant on the case. (It did so obviously before thios afternoon’s clarifications on the LPR matter.)
“Florida Park Drive is unique, it’s a collector, approximately two miles long that has a lot of driveways on it,” Lassiter said. “That’s the issue with it being a collector, you typically don’t have driveways on a collector roadway that has high-intensity commercial at the southern end.”
The city has considered and dismissed various measures in the past, including traffic restrictions. It is now prepared to ban traffic involving trucks of four tons or more, or of four axles or more, including trucks with trailers. That sort of traffic would have to use Palm Harbor Parkway and Old Kings Road instead. Light trucks would still be permitted.
“These are the trucks we absolutely want to keep off this roadway unless they’re destined for areas within the roadway,” Lassiter said. “You can’t help but have construction delivery trucks, moving trucks, those types of things happening when they’re destined for the area.”
But there is no noise issue on Florida Park Drive: the highest decibel level recorded was 64.3, lower than the 65 decibels of human speech from a distance of three feet. There are occasional excesses when cars will be noisier, but not as a norm, Lassiter said.
There is also no air-quality problem. Based on monitoring conducted over 30 days, there are no substantially detectable levels of carbon monoxide, along the road. Residents appearing before the council have occasionally claimed that they’re routinely exposed to noxious fumes. “The measured values out there are almost unmeasurable, just above zero levels,” Lassiter said. “This is not atypical. This is what you find, certainly in coastal areas with sea breezes,”
“So there’s no problem with air pollution and noise pollution?” Branquinho asked.
“I’m a resident also,’ Lassiter said. “I don’t like either of those. But I’m just telling you what the standards are, these are below the standards. The air pollution is so far below the standard that I think that it actually should be less of a concern. My bigger concern is the noise. That’s something we do try to come up with solutions that we hope help in that.” Moving trucks out of the route will improve both noise and air quality.
The landscaping would change some of the looks of Florida Park Drive. Under one option, the city would seek more landscaping buffers on individual residential lots, with its landscape architect and technicians providing design services to homeowners at no charge, though the actual improvements would be the homeowner’s responsibility. The city would create a landscaping grant program, so residents could tap into city grants for help, with $1,250-grants per lot, and $50,000 set aside in 2020, providing grants for up to 40 lots, and $5,000 set aside each year after that, for up to four lots per year.
City Council member Bob Cuff was not entirely comfortable with the concept, seeing it as preferential. “Why don’t we buy fences for everybody whose property backs up to Belle Terre Parkway for instance,” Cuff said. But he was willing to go along “if it’s focused and limited, and there’s some participation buy-in.” The city is holding a public hearing on the matter–as it would have to when approving a new ordinance anyway–and will gauge residents’ responses (not just residents limited to the Florida Park Drive area).
Cuff and Holland though were not supportive of a traffic-calming option that includes two small roundabouts along the drive, preferring a less intrusive option of landscaping, medians, benches, or narrowed lanes. The latter–so-called B1 option–would cost between $150,000 and $300,000. The roundabout option would cost $300,000 to $600,000. Small as they are, favored by traffic engineers and common as they are in some parts of the country, roundabouts in Flagler tend to elicit violent reactions from residents. Council members seemed inclined to avoid going down that route. B1 appears headed for ratification.
“We’ve been discussing Florida Park Drive for a long time now, and to have three very solid options for a transforming roadway that has an impact to our residents is important,” Holland said. “So I’m in favor of certainly striping when we do resurface the road, the truck ordinance, as well as the landscaping. I like the Option B1, just because I think that’s achievable and will allow for not only the traffic calming but a nicer aesthetic for people traveling that roadway. I do believe when Holland Park Phase two is finished we will see some residents that want to enjoy those additions, and I think it’s important that we always keep that in mind, that when we’re adding to our neighborhood park, this is a regional park, that the surrounding areas are equally enhanced.” (Holland Park’s latest renovation includes a splash park for younger children.)