It’s no mystery to anyone familiar with the island: parking spaces in Flagler Beach are an endangered species. A city analysis found well short of 2,000 spots citywide–862 north of State Road 100, just shy of 1,000 south of 100. But that was before the reconstruction of the south end of A1A eliminated a slew of those spots.
City Manager William Whitson submitted the rough analysis to the July 4 Committee on Tuesday as part of the panel’s continuing efforts to get better control–first with information, then with recommendations to the City Commission–of Independence Day traffic and visitor impacts on city residents and businesses.
Some members of the commission, the administration and the committee, including Mayor Suzie Johnston, Whitson, City Police Chief Matt Doughney, Commission Chairman Eric Cooley and Committee Chairman Scott Spradley, the local attorney, to one extent or another are concerned about how much July 4 may have become an event difficult to control or accommodate.
The event keeps attracting larger crowds, perhaps rowdier crowds: an assessment of traffic patterns by the head of a volunteer organization that has been regulating traffic on July 4 for 26 years raised alarms in an Oct. 11 memo to the committee. Especially in the last 10 years, he wrote, “some of our long time volunteers have expressed concerns over their personal safety.”
Larger crowds keep pouring in. The city’s geography is unchanged. If anything, it is physically shrinking along its littoral, with more than polemical consequences: the shrinkage led to the reconstruction of A1A, and the elimination of a slew of parking spaces. That trend is only going one way, toward more shrinkage. So city and committee officials consider the combination of a parade, day-long festivities and 9 p.m. fireworks on July 4, in addition to peripheral events like First Friday and holiday beach bacchanals, an unsustainable formula as currently configured.
The committee’s job is to submit recommendations to the City Commission by January 22–what would amount to a new formula. The committee is still searching for its Euclid.
Parking is a key factor. Whitson’s memo broke down the known number of the city’s existing parking spaces–1,850–into its three categories. Only 35 percent of those spots are the on-street variety: the spots along the shore, along sidewalks, in the cobblestoned downtown district. The rest is off-street public or private, and there’s some vagueness as to what off-street private may mean beyond church and school parking lots.
“We do need to go back in and do some more analysis,” City Manager William Whitson said. “This is a high level item here.” He said the numbers are–ironically for parking– “always a moving target,” with definitions of off-street parking and would be.
“It doesn’t matter how many spaces that we determine are there. There’s still a huge problem,” Spradley said. “That number will be supportive of whatever we wind up recommending to the commission. This is how many spaces we have, these are the number of people that we’re going to have to accommodate.”
The city doesn’t have a verified count of the number of people who visit on July 4, morning to night. The figure often cited by city officials is 50,000, but it’s anecdotal. “That was a number that came from Larry Newsome,” Mayor Suzie Johnston, a non-voting member of the committee, said.
The city could easily know an exact count of vehicles by placing traffic counters at its three entrances–on the bridge and at the two ends of State Road A1A–a proposal Johnston put forth. The counters could also be maintained for the weekends before and after Independence Day for comparison. Some traffic counters are already in place.
Whitson, in preparation for a separate commission item, is currently analyzing traffic counts by the pier, the restaurants and the beach as an economic indicator. In 2020, the count was 15,800 cars a day. That was during the pandemic–7,800 southbound. (“Half of those trips back and forth across the bridge are my wife saying oh, wait, did you get carrots? I’m back over. Oh, wait, did you get corn at Publix? Five times a day?,” one of the committee members said. The identity of the committee member is being withheld for his protection.)
Parking is one component of the July 4. Shuttle buses are another. Those shuttle buses for three years were subsidized by the city, giving free rides to visitors and picking up from the Babcock parking lot on the mainland side of the bridge. That’s over: riders will have to pay from now on. The Babcock lot is also too small for the demand. Whitson has been working on securing agreements with First Baptist Church and Boston Whaler to use their lots as shuttle terminals during festivities. Boston Whaler “is all in,” Whitson said, with some legalities still to be cleared. The church is almost ready to sign on, with some issues Whitson wants to work out yet. (One committee member raised the possibility of a water taxi, a natural fit at the Boston Whaler facility.)
The committee members are also intrigued in following in the footsteps of the Creekside Festival, which this year retained a Jacksonville company to run the parking during the two-day event.
The origin of the July 4 committee was an explosive proposal, put forth by Cooley: should the Independence Day fireworks continue? Cooley had proposed letting Palm Coast take over the fireworks entirely, and shifting Flagler Beach’s fireworks to New Year’s Eve. Flagler Beach residents–and the commission–are looking to the committee’s recommendation on that proposal. The committee has discussed it, and several members support ending the fireworks, but some don’t. So far it’s been–as expected–the most controversial issue for the committee. The only controversial issue. The committee seemed not eager to take on the question Tuesday, focusing on parking and the sort of “small town county fair kind of feel” of the day’s events, other than the fireworks.
Johnston, who has supported eliminating the fireworks, spoke as if that wasn’t going to happen–at least not this year. “We have fireworks and parking is limited: and that’s how we push this event,” she said, highlighting the way the event should be publicized on the city’s website. “Because the event is going to happen. We are already going to be at maximum capacity with everything we have. It needs to be: come enjoy Fourth of July. Keep in mind, the beach has limited parking, use the shuttle, walk here, rideshare–everything. That needs to be front and center. So when people look at our events, they’re like okay, it’s going to be hard to find a spot, and we need to drill that in.”
This has more to do with the county growth & the fact that Flagler Beach really has only one free bridge in & out. The only other bridge is the toll bridge on Palm Coast Parkway. Flagler Beach never was intended to be Ormond Beach to the NSB area for growth. That said, even NSB with all the Orlando, FL traffic is also a miserable experience for at least weekends. Orlando crowds have another option and that’s to go to Titusville to Rockledge area. Flagler has grown to 120+K. St Augustine, that’s in 286+K St Johns and they’re looking to relocate here, just as Volusia county is at 567+K. As the housing & apartments continue to be developed, somewhere on the intracoastal another bridge or two will have to be added for infrastructure. I just don’t think the folks we have in our county government quite understand what ITT did when they set out to create Palm Coast as a more exclusive city & community. Really the growth form Jacksonville has made St Augustine & Fernandina Beach lifestyles something I avoid. This place is a marsh & swamp there is a reason US-1 is West of I-95 here. Eventually US-1 gets back to the Intracoastal in St Augustine to the North and at Destination Daytona to the South. But in Jacksonville it ends up West of I-95 again. Politicians need to really look at infrastructure first, before they start catering to votes There really aren’t enough N S & E W roads to handle much more than what this county has grown to from US-1 to A1A. And 2 bridges don’t cut it for getting across the Intracoastal. Doesn’t help that Matanzas Woods Parkway ends up back at Palm Coast Parkway for that bridge. There are plenty of nature preserves that make E W roads & bridges impossible. In a way, all the parks protected Flagler county from growth. But that doesn’t stop the politicians from building everything up elsewhere, and they just don’t have the infrastructure for the population density. Every one of these apartments & housing developments outlet to the same roads that are the named Parkways or Rymfire & Whiteview that don’t go all the way thru E W.
Linda Hagman says
As a resident of Flagler Beach, every July 4th fireworks event brings total pandemonium to this city. Prior to the fireworks starting drivers in a frenzy drive up destroying dunes and yards. After the event, many stay and shoot fireworks on the beach leaving trash and debris endangering people and sealife.
As beautiful and spectacular as the fireworks off the pier appear, the potential damage to both property and people has far outgrown the ability of the city to control. It would be wise to move the fireworks to Town Center or at the least have a professional company contracted to control the parking so that our police department can focus their energies on keeping everyone safe.
The cart before the horse! Idiots!
Charlie Ericksen Jr says
Apparently the City has forgotten a past remedy to reduced downtown parking for events.. I believe just a few years ago, they had visitors park in the Retail stores ( Publix, Furniture) across the Intracoastal, and bus, them into /out of the City. But then again, the new ” team” in Flagler Beach, seems to be forgetting the past, and wants to get get credit for changes
Scott W. Spradley says
Charlie, if you read the entire article, you will see that retail parking and other alternative off-island parking arrangements were a prominent part of the discussion at our meeting yesterday, and at our prior meetings. I urge you to attend meeting as we have public comment for anyone who wishes to be heard. The next meeting will be November 9th at 9 a.m. at Flagler Beach City Hall. Hope to see you there.
Timothy Patrick Welch says
1. Have weekly fireworks in the summer?
2. Does the event draw tourists to the area or just mainly locals.
3. Charge for parking.
4. Bus from remote lot and reroute A1A traffic, and open A1A to pedestrian traffic.
5. Do those subject to the County Tourist tax actually benefit from this event?
6. If this is a 4th of July event why are businesses required to pay?
Visitors to the beach now park on people’s lawns on A1A and along the side streets. The only remedies are to bus people in from remote lots (where?), charge for parking, or stop having large events. If they build that hotel by Veterans Park it will also get much worse.
Dennis C Rathsam says
Ive been saying for years now, our roadways can not handle the infux of all these new people. I the quest for the allmighty tax dollar, our leaders have sold the local out!!!!!!Green spaces are evaporating, like the water we drink. More homes, more people, more traffic….Where are all these new kids, going to school? Its a clusterfuck for parents now, waiting in long lines, to drop off their bundles of joy….Where ever theres a school, two times a day, the traffic jams, are outrageous. Fix the problem now, the longer we wait, the worse it will be to fix it
Parking will always be an issue in any town as growth continues and property is purchased and used for a business or a residence. It’s up to the city or county to acquire property to support parking depending on the location.. The public can complain but it is what it is.
Linda Morgan says
I agree with you! It is up to the city or county to acquire property for public parking at the beach. Some of our leaders are missing the game of smart development. Some of these expenses need to be put on the developer. For example, we moved to Flagler Beach in 1976 and moved to Ft Myers, Fl. in 1981. At that time, they had prohibited any new construction on the beach from having asphalt paved parking. They used shell, sand and other surfaces that allow the water to drain into the land. From there we moved to West Palm Beach, who also had a more aggressive approach to and making them pay back to the community. Stopping the developers to just build, make money and leave, each major development company had to donate 25 acres and build a neighborhood park, wherever they built. I was impressed with their forward thinking. Finally, after 13 years, we were able to move back to Flagler Beach in 1994, which was a long term dream. I am waiting for some of these unenlightened commissioners and planning committee officials to get smart, plan smart and protect our county’s beauty. Remember, some areas don’t have our beautiful landscape and natural beauty around them to save. We Still Do!!