Beach parking garage
The Clearwater Beach Association board of directors has voted to ask the city not to build any parking garages on Clearwater Beach, but to build one in town on less expensive property and provide public transportation to the beach.
Their argument is that no parking garage on the beach could be large enough to adequately accommodate all the cars on certain occasions, and that there would also be times when a parking garage for beach use only would stand empty.
Let's think this through.
How would the public transportation component work? Would it be a shuttle that drops everyone off at one fixed point - such as the pier? That's great for folks going to the pier, but what about people headed for the south end of the beach, or up to the Rockaway area? Those spots are a half mile away - a long way to lug a load of beach stuff. And what happens when the weather turns, and everyone heads for the mainland at the same time?
If the shuttle tries to offer multiple beach destinations, logistics eliminate any convenience advantage it may provide. How long will it take to park on the mainland, lug your stuff to the station, wait for the next shuttle, ride over the causeway, sit through all the multiple stops at the pier and the south end before you finally arrive at your north end destination?
And that's not even accounting for weekend and season traffic jams. On a busy weekend in season, the beach fills up with 500 plus vehicles in about three hours. The shuttle is going to get mired in that gridlock. How long will each garage-to-roundabout-to-garage round trip take? How many roundtrips can the shuttle make during the 3-hour crunch time? For how many of those 500 vehicles will the shuttle be a viable alternative?
And who is going to ride this shuttle? The idea of parking downtown and then riding to the beach is not intuitive. Regular local beachgoers will know of this option, but for everyone else, the default behavior will be to go straight to the beach and then evaluate their options. Once there, the confused and frustrated out-of-town tourists will wander the roads looking for a parking spot, compounding the beach traffic problem in the process. As for the regular local beachgoers, these are the folks most accustomed to the convenience of beachfront parking, which makes them the demographic most averse to the "park/ride/lug" option.
For insight into the probable response of locals to a new beach transportation option, think back to the days when motel parking was the popular alternative to full beachfront parking lots. Most locals did not mind a short lug to the beach, what they disliked was crossing traffic on Coronado and Gulfview. They tended to choose motels that were closest to the section of beach they favored. Those with lots of "stuff" would pay for their spot, then drive back up to Gulfview to unload, then the driver would come back to park the vehicle. Most locals visit their parked vehicles for various reasons at least once during the day. These are all positive indicators of beach arage popularity.
It is highly likely that the ridership of the beach shuttle will consist of those local regular beachgoers who aren't lugging a lot of beach stuff, who don't have special needs, who don't want to have their vehicle nearby for access, and who haven't realized that it takes almost as long to park/ride/lug as it does to just drive to the beach and find a spot.
What about cost? Local beachgoers are not going to pay a prohibitive price for the shuttle. The "park/ride/lug" option would have to be free, or close to it, or else locals are simply going to opt for the convenience of parking on the beach. Given the likelihood of minimal cost recovery, is an expensive investment in a shuttle system wise?
And I have to say something about the mindset of the Clearwater Beach Association board of directors. The argument that there are times when the garage would sit empty is silly. Every commercial establishment on the beach goes through off-season periods when there are few customers. At those times, they sit empty. Does that mean they should never have gone into business? Of course not!
Most perplexing of all is the board's failure to recognize the probability of reduced sales of retail items that would result from their plan. Nothing says "vibrant commerce" more than the sight of tourists toting full bags of beach merchandise down the street. They aren't going to load up on anything if it can't be safely tucked away in their car until they're back on the mainland! What is the CBA board thinking?
In summary, the "park on the mainland, ride to the beach" option is - at best - a secondary, supportive solution to the beach parking crisis. A professional cost-benefit analysis would be needed to determine whether the effort is justified, but I believe the Jolley Trolley was a de facto test-marketing of this idea. It didn't fly.
The city's primary focus should be on aggressively pursuing the parking garage option. This is a step in the right direction towards the larger goal of creating a truly superior beach tourism product.
- David Spath
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