Just when you might have thought Vero Beach City Council punted on the idea of cutting the two one-way streets through downtown from seven lanes to four, one of its advisory committees is getting narrow-minded again.
What was supposed to be an organizational meeting of the Historic Downtown Economic Development Zone Committee meeting Monday morning morphed into about an hourlong discussion about how to persuade the council and community to support narrowing, on-street parking, beautification and other things members said would help downtown.
The only person in the audience to speak was Rey Neville, the most outspoken proponent on City Council for eliminating lanes.
Several of those in the meeting called me out by name, lamenting my longtime opposition to wiping out lanes. (They didn't mention my longtime advocacy for increasing safety along the route — adding crosswalks, for example.)
Reisman in 2015: There’s a simple way to improve Vero Beach’s Twin Pairs
Reisman in 2017: New brewery taps concerns over downtown parking, safety issues
Local leaders planned for future
Why do I oppose eliminating lanes, other than maybe one headed westbound?
City and county fathers decades ago, knowing traffic wouldn't get lighter, planned ahead for growth, widening State Road 60 to six lanes west of 20th Avenue. Neville, 80, often talks of the Vero Beach downtown of his youth. Well, in 1950 Vero Beach and Indian River County had populations of 4,750 and 11,850, respectively. The 2020 Census listed those numbers at 16,354 and 159,788.
Like it or not, State Road 60 continues to be the main road connecting Vero Beach to Florida’s west coast, its turnpike and Interstate 95.
Committee members asked about the road in part because the Florida Department of Transportation is preparing resurfacing plans for a project that could be completed in three to six years.
DOT is doing a safety review of the road as part of the plans, according to Jason Jeffries, the city’s planning director. City Council last year suggested ways to slow traffic, from narrowing lanes and making one a right-turn only to posting electronic speed-limit signs and adding crosswalks.
Would I support limited changes? Possibly, even if every time I write about the so-called Twin Pairs residents of the city and county write to object to narrowing and adding parking on the road. Let's see what the state's study shows.
Meantime, I’m waiting for folks like committee members Joseph Cataldo, Terry Torres and Bob DelVecchio to convince me, with data, there’s a problem downtown, or a future one to be solved.
Stop scaring public: Reports: State Road 60 in Vero Beach not speedway, dangerous
End the misinformation campaign
Narrowing proponents have attacked the Twin Pairs since its inception in 1992 with claims that have been disproven over time. Among those:
Downtown died because of the Twin Pairs: This argument seems to have died because the downtown has flourished in a different way than pre-1980s when folks lived and shopped closer to downtown and there were limited shopping alternatives.
The road is a speedway: False. A 2021 study showed the average speed is less than the speed limit and 85% of motorists travel within 3 mph of the 40 mph speed limit.
The road isn’t safe: In a 2021 report to City Council, Police Chief David Currey made things clear: “From a data standpoint, it’s not overly concerning,” he said, noting that only once from 2018-20 did a downtown intersection — 19th Place at 14th Avenue — make it into the 10 worst accident locations in the city. He cited no serious injuries or accidents involving pedestrians.
Torres, a Realtor and contractor who has been on the committee since its inception in 2015, perpetuated the safety myth Monday, saying a vehicle on the Twin Pairs crashed into his conference room several years ago.
It wasn’t the first time a vehicle crashed into a building on State Road 60 and it won’t be the last. Vehicles crash into buildings on single-lane roads, too, such as on Ocean Drive and Miracle Mile.
I remember two such incidents locally in 2021. In June, a pickup truck crashed into a preschool and daycare center on Barber Street in Sebastian. In March, multiple people were injured after a pickup truck entered a home on 27th Avenue Southwest.
One driver was charged with being impaired. Narrowing lanes won’t stop bad driving.
Negativity might keep investors away
The committee talked about working with Main Street Vero Beach to get supporters to lobby City Council. Cataldo, a real estate developer and downtown property owner, suggested that council makeup could change to support narrowing the roadway.
Maybe, but based on the feedback I got the last time I wrote about this issue, I doubt it — unless it's limited to some of the changes council is having FDOT review.
Neville talked about the need to create a walkable downtown (as if the downtown is not walkable already). He suggested status quo supporters could be “emotional” about the issue.
“Passionate” might be a better word.
I just wish folks on both sides of this issue would rely on data more than platitudes and assumptions — and that some narrowing opponents would stop giving a bad rap to downtown ("It’s too dangerous." "There’s no parking.").
Maybe their negativity is what keeps some creative developers away.
I wish the pro-narrowers would stop comparing apples to oranges. Neville likes to say U.S. 1 in Fort Pierce is only two lanes each way. He’s right. But Fort Pierce has no on-street parking. The beauty of downtown Fort Pierce is almost exclusively on the east side of the road.
I’d challenge Neville to try and cross four lanes of U.S. 1, two going each way, anywhere on the Treasure Coast and see if that’s more dangerous than three or four lanes going one way — as you’ll see in many cities, smaller and larger.
Members of the committee and I agree on the most important things about the downtown: It should be safe, walkable and attractive.
Having worked downtown for more than six years, I know it’s the former two. Areas such as State Road 60 certainly could be gussied up.
Don't want to miss another column like this? Here's our latest membership deal
Who will pay for it? The city, based on the committee's recommendation, is spending $50,000 on a lighting study, Jeffries said, noting $600,000 should be available for lighting improvements over the next five years.
About $100,000 a year comes from the city's downtown economic development zone, funded by increases in property values. That money must be spent downtown.
Is there another funding mechanism? Should downtown property owners unite to collect funds to pay for additional improvements? Main Street Vero Beach already has done a super job when it comes to such things as planters, kiosks and more.
Let's be creative when it comes to making downtown even nicer. Let's have more conversations, such as those I had Wednesday individually with Cataldo and Torres. We have more in common than we might think.
We likely will not get everything we want. But let's move in the same direction.
This column reflects the opinion of Laurence Reisman. Contact him via email at email@example.com, phone at 772-978-2223, Facebook.com/larryreisman or Twitter @LaurenceReisman
This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Be prudent on ideas to cut lanes through Vero Beach downtown | Opinion