ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- Complaints of too much traffic and difficulties finding a parking space can often be heard in downtown St. Augustine. City leaders and community members are discussing ways to improve the parking situation.
"There was a lot of traffic when I pulled into town," said Phil Abrecht, visiting from Atlanta, Georgia.
Obrecht said he pulled into the first parking lot he found and asked the lady where it might be cheaper, but then he went ahead and paid the $10. "I didn't have the patience to wander around, and drive around, to find a cheaper deal."
At a meeting of city leaders, government officials, business owners and residents, all agreed traffic congestion and the lack of parking was a problem and it was getting worse.
About 7.5 million visitors a year to St. Johns County brings overcrowding problems, especially in the historic district. That is why a public meeting was held to discuss ways to deal with the need for more parking and managing traffic.
"We need to move people and keep the cars out of our downtown," said County Commissioner Rachael Bennett. "We need to keep downtown pedestrian safe and pedestrian friendly, and think of a new way to move people through our area that is beneficial to the residents, to the businesses and to the visitors."
City Commissioner Leanna Freeman likes that idea. "With signage we could direct visitors to parking lots that would be further out of the town but that would require us providing transportation into town and those are some of the details we are going to have to work out."
Last fall the city used a park and ride shuttle system for visitors during the Mumford and Sons concert and that has a lot of support.
Most people agreed that something needs to be done sooner than later. Expanding shuttle service from area hotels was also be discussed that would let visitors keep their cars at hotels, and not have to drive downtown to visit. The shuttles could also be used to shuttle people to the beaches area, which sometimes have so many visitors, that people park all over the place there and cause problems.
Many are hopeful some kind of pilot shuttle system could be worked out in time for the busy spring season. Freeman says she will take what was discussed at the meeting and pass it on to city commissioners. She said there must be a decision on how visitors might pay the cost of the shuttle system or the government funding it. She supports a pilot program of some kind that can be run for a certain period of time and then studied for its impact. It can also be modified if necessary.