Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday December 12th 2018

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The Buzz 12/6/18

Bicycle Master Plan The architectural renderings are pretty, but at this point, they are only the hopes of cycling enthusiasts and Complete Street wonks.

“This is obviously nothing official,” clarified David Mayo, chairman of the Pensacola Bicycle Advisory Committee, as he showed off the renderings during the committee’s Nov. 30 meeting.

The images depicted a North Palafox featuring two lanes for vehicles separated by tree-lined “bioswales” from six-foot bike lanes and sidewalks on either side of the road. Likewise, Cervantes was shown with minimized traffic lanes complemented by landscaping, bike lanes and sidewalks with a similar picture along Summit Boulevard.

The renderings offered a glimpse of what could be done in the Pensacola area to slow cruising traffic and create a safer environment for bicyclist and pedestrians. They illustrate what is known as a road diet and allow for designated biking and walking spaces.

“It’s just good to be able to visualize something,” Mayo said.

Currently, the reality is a far cry from the BAC’s road renderings. On the street, bicyclists and pedestrians on roadways like Palafox, Cervantes and Summit travel right alongside whizzing traffic enjoying luxuriously wide lanes that encourage higher speeds. The committee would like to see more biker- and walker-friendly designs—designs falling under the Complete Streets philosophy of connectivity—incorporated locally.

“We’re trying to attract millennials. We’re trying to attract the creative class,” said BAC member Rand Hicks. “They don’t necessarily want to own cars; they want to ride bikes.”

This summer, Pensacola’s bicycle committee submitted a number of proposed roadway projects to the Florida-Alabama Transportation Planning Organization for potential funding. But there are no illusions about the chances of actually securing any money for the projects.

“If anything is going to really truly be done, it’s going to have to come through the city,” Mayo conceded.

Pensacola City Councilwoman Sherri Myers was in attendance and complained that Ninth Avenue wasn’t included in the projects submitted. Committee members agreed that there were other routes in the city that need attention but said their list represented a prioritized sampling.

Myers told the BAC she was currently working on drafting a Complete Streets ordinance to introduce to city council soon. The ordinance, formalizing the city’s efforts towards walkability and pedestrian-friendly streets, will be helpful the next time the BAC applies for the League of American Bicyclists’ Bicycle Friendly Community designation.

The BAC’s recent attempt to secure that designation was unsuccessful. However, the League offered some suggestions for future bids. In addition to adopting a Complete Streets policy, the organization noted that the city should adopt standards laid out in the National Association of City Transportation Officials Design Guide, hire a bicycle and pedestrian coordinator and create a Bicycle Master Plan.

The organization also provided some insightful metrics, comparing Pensacola with the “average Bronze” city. While there were some bright spots, such as Pensacola having an active bike-advocacy group and bike-friendly laws, there were obvious trouble spots.

For one, the city scored a three out of 10 for roadway connectivity and a four when it came to motorists’ skills and bicyclists’ awareness. The city also scored poorly in categories gauging the enforcement of cyclists’ rights, the acceptance of cycling into the culture and also in city planning efforts geared toward accommodating cyclists. In a particularly grim comparison, the group looked at the number of cycling fatalities per 10,000 riders. Pensacola had 116 compared with an average of 21.

The Complete Streets aspect of this equation may be addressed early next year. Myers said she hoped to have an ordinance drafted for the council to look at in January.

Planning in Public Studer Properties outlined the process for developing a master plan for the remaining parcels of the Community Maritime Park at a city council workshop held last Thursday, Nov. 29.

Recently, the city of Pensacola granted Studer Properties an 18-month “option agreement” for the remaining seven parcels at the park that overlooks Pensacola Bay. During that time, businessman and developer Quint Studer intends to draw up a master plan for both the park parcels as well as his nearby 19 acres that used to be home to “Old Stinky,” ECUA’s wastewater facility.

During the council’s workshop, Studer described how the overall project represented a chance to draw the success of the downtown core westward.

“My whole goal, and I know your whole goal, is to go west of Palafox,” Studer told the city council.

Brought in to walk city council members through the process was Jeff Speck, a city planner who recently gave a presentation for the CivicCon series. The planner is the author of the book “Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time.”

“It’s really astounding what’s been accomplished here,” Speck told the council. “People have asked, ‘Have we turned the corner?’ I would say we’re at the corner, particularly your downtown.”

The thoughtful development of the properties on the table and even the area surrounding those properties—“a proper plan does not concern itself with who owns what; a proper plan looks at the whole area holistically”—was painted as the missing piece of Pensacola’s puzzle.

“This is the project that could help you turn the corner,” Speck said.

The planner talked about how one impediment to developing the types of projects he works on—ones which encourage a pedestrian-friendly area—are often existing ordinances and zoning.

“The existing zoning doesn’t allow beauty,” said Speck, “doesn’t allow urbanism and walkability.”

Marina Khoury, a planner and partner at Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, who was also brought in for the workshop and could work with Speck on the project, assured the council that the project would include ample public meetings.

“We really like to design in public,” Khoury said.

No firm plans or concepts were mentioned for the properties, and Studer said that he intended to conduct market research to guide his team of planners better. But Speck did tell the council that any development should strive to bring more people to the area to live, work and visit.

“I think we share a goal for these properties to bring a lot of bodies downtown,” Speck said. “My goal would be the more, the merrier.”

After the city council workshop wrapped up, Studer said he was encouraged moving forward. He was glad the council seemed receptive to working with him in ensuring any development jived with the whole of downtown.

He agreed with Speck about these properties—comprising a sizable chunk of developable land west of Palafox—and this masterplan process having the potential to help Pensacola “turn the corner.”

But what does turning the corner look like?

Studer said, “Turning the corner looks like the fact that we all the sudden have projects that outside investors want to bring money into Pensacola.”

Transfer of Power Shortly after being sworn into office on Nov. 27, Pensacola’s newly elected Mayor Grover Robinson relayed to a full house how excited he was to be leading the city into the future.

“I truly love this community, and I have spent much time thinking about how to make it better,” Robinson said.

In addition to offering thanks to his family and the community, the new mayor also addressed the Pensacola City Council. Robinson stressed the importance he places on teamwork, “The only thing we need to apply the word ‘strong’ to is our community.”

“I would like to thank you for an open mind as we start this journey together,” Robinson told the council. “And I look forward to working with you.”

Outgoing city officeholders also addressed the community during the ceremony. Painting his tenure as mayor as a time when the city realized its long-hoped-for revitalization, Hayward talked about job growth and efforts to market Pensacola to the outside world as an ideal place to live, work and play.

“We sold the community, and we sold Pensacola,” Hayward said, “and that was one of the big goals of my administration,”

He talked about the energetic evolution of the downtown area following additions such as Maritime Park and the importance of creating “places and spaces,” of “creating the right environment.”

“We all worked together as a team to create the energy and the synergy of Pensacola,” Hayward said.

Former District 6 Councilman Brian Spencer thanked the outgoing mayor for leading during the city’s frontier days of the new charter as well as for “elevating our status to an international level.”

Spencer also said he would continue to serve the city as a citizen and looked forward to working with the new administration.

“I’ll pursue solutions that will address our city’s challenges,” Spencer assured.

Larry B. Johnson, outgoing District 4 councilman, said he was “incredibly proud” of the city’s accomplishments during his tenure. He pointed to the city’s curbside recycling program, an ordinance recognizing domestic partnerships, expansions at the airport and improved water quality in Bayou Texar.

After a heartfelt thank you to his mother and father, Johnson closed with a joke about his future plans, “As for me, I’m returning to my first love, which is dancing.”

Council Officers The Pensacola City Council elected District 3 Councilman Andy Terhaar its president for the 2018-19 fiscal year and District 1 Councilman P.C. Wu its vice president.

Terhaar, a property manager, served as council president in 2014-15. During his presidency, the council changed its meeting schedule to only one regular meeting a month. He joined forces with former Mayor Ashton Hayward to block a Community Maritime Park lease agreement for a $20 million UWF Center for Entrepreneurship, which had been approved by the CMPA board, from being placed on the council agenda in July 2015.

Wu, a retired UWF professor, has the longest tenure on the council—14 years. He served as council president in 2012-13. During his presidency, the YMCA tried to lease a parcel at the Maritime Park for its new downtown location, but the council rejected the offer.

Neither Terhaar nor Wu have held a town hall meeting with their constituents since 2013.

Falling City Scores On the last day of Mayor Ashton Hayward’s administration, the mayor’s office released the 2018 Community Survey conducted by the UWF Haas Center.

“Pensacola continues to be on the right track, and these survey results validate that what we have been focusing on during my administration matches what is important to the community,” said Hayward in a written statement. “Public safety and stormwater infrastructure have been a major focus the last few years, and it shows in the survey results.”

Of the 14 categories measured, only two—fire and police—had higher scores than they received last year, with them up .13 and .03 points, respectively. Ease of obtaining information on city services remained the same, but all the other categories dropped. The most significant drops were in city street lighting (-.24 points) and city sidewalks (-.23 points).

Ticket-Free Week From Dec. 17-25, there will be no charge to park in a metered parking space on downtown Pensacola streets. Parking Amnesty Week, first celebrated in 2015, emerged from a desire to highlight the diversity of downtown shops, galleries, restaurants and attractions and to encourage “shopping locally” during the holidays. The free parking applies to any on-street metered spaces under the DIB’s management.

“There are more than 150 locally-owned merchants downtown welcoming customers with unique gifts, special promotions and amazing holiday sales,” said DIB executive director Lissa Dees. “Parking Amnesty Week gives the DIB the opportunity to support our small businesses downtown while giving a little something back to the community in the process.”

Ronald McDonald House Fundraiser Since 1984, the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northwest Florida has helped more than 20,000 adults and children, offering a home-away-from-home for families whose kids are undergoing medical treatments at local hospitals. The annual Ronald McDonald House Bake Sale and Silent Auction will take place 9 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, at Gulf Breeze High School.

This year, Gulf Breeze High students Callie Mitchell and Emma Thompson are spearheading the event. Blake Barclay, a freshman at Harvard University, started the fundraiser over 10 years ago. With Blake leaving for college, he passed the baton to Mitchell and Thompson.

Mitchell said, “Service has always been a part of my life, and we are so excited to take on this annual event. We also hope to raise awareness for this great cause.”

Along with the bake sale and silent auction portion of the fundraiser, the event will also have many booths sponsored by clubs from Gulf Breeze High. There will also be a visit from Santa Claus and a great opportunity for family photos.

Mark Your Calendar Escambia County District 3 Commissioner Lumon May will host the second annual Holiday Youth Extravaganza at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 8, at the Brownsville Community Center, 3200 W. De Soto St. Escambia County’s Holiday Youth Extravaganza is free and open to the public.

Healthy Start Coalition of Santa Rosa County will hold an Executive Board Meeting at 3:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 10, followed by a board meeting at 4 p.m. at the Healthy Start office, 5505 Stewart St., Milton.