Make way for the gondolas

An aerial tram, micro transporters and low-speed bicycle boulevards are envisioned under a new plan in the historic city of St. Augustine, founded in 1565.

On Feb. 14, city commissioners gave initial approval to fees for new construction that would pay for a mobility plan that would promote “the continued transition from a transportation system focused on moving cars towards a multimodal system focused on providing people with enhanced mobility choices to walk, bike, ride a trolley, or use new forms of transportation to move about the City.”

“The 2040 Mobility Plan consist of four distinct plans that include multimodal projects for sidewalks, paths, trails, protected bike lanes, low speed shared streets, complete streets, and multimodal ways. The plans address both citywide and regional mobility through microtransit circulators, multimodal parking structures, water taxis, an aerial tramway, regional rail that will connect St. Augustine with Jacksonville, and several regional road projects to direct regional cut-through traffic around the City,” according to a February 2022 report.

A final vote on the fees is set for Feb. 28.

“The Mobility Plan shall include transit circulator routes and identify water taxi docks, for public and/or private water taxi service, that connect the parking garages to destinations within the multimodal district. As more parking spaces are located in parking garages along the periphery of the multimodal district and frequent multimodal transportation options are provided, longer duration visits may include visits of two or more hours in length.”

“The Mobility Plan projects may include, but are not limited to, sidewalks, paths, trails, bike lanes, protected bike lanes, buffered bike lanes, bicycle boulevards, bicycle racks, shared streets, speed reduction programs, shared-use multimodal lanes, flexible lanes, dedicated transit lanes, high occupancy vehicle lanes, mobility hubs, pavement markings, traffic control devices, enhanced crosswalks, advanced warning systems, streetscape, hardscape, landscape, turn lanes, intersection improvements, safety improvements, roundabouts, bridges, transit stops, shelters, stations and pull-out bays, transit vehicles, and new motor vehicle travel lanes,” the report said.

The mobility plan created a buzz on the St. Augustine News Facebook group.

An FB user named Jennifer Boccassini said, “Mobility fee yes but we have to stop all this new construction and focus on preserving historical neighborhoods….”

FB user Steve Stone suggested taxing tourists, not businesses.

“Telling tourists to come here by the millions then tax the people who serve the tourists because we are overcrowded is not fair,” he said. “Here’s another thing, the city is just about built out, so taxing new construction would fall way too short of the goals put in place so the next thing would be to tax the people of the city. Poorly thought out ‘Mobility Plan.'”

“I think St. Augustine should not lose its identity. It’s the ‘Olde Town.’ It’s all about history and charm. Every new building takes away from that,” said Mike Fine, a resident of St. Johns County. “St. Augustine shouldn’t want to be the next Miami, or Tampa, or even Jacksonville…”

Fine said mobility fees just might deter some developers from building downtown.

“I think most citizens want growth to stop,” he said. “Developers want more obviously, but just because they can approve more construction doesn’t mean they should. But I’m torn. I also believe in current landowners to be able to do as they please with their own property. It’s tough, and it’s complex, but I guess I would like to see a high mobility fee.”

Under the plan, a 100-room hotel would pay a $176,300 mobility fee. A 5,000-square-foot convenience store with no gas pumps would fork over $23,350. The builder of a 2,000-square-foot home would pay just $2,010.

The mobility plan shows some interesting maps, although they are blurry and hard to read.
Jonathan B. Paul

A company called NUE Urban Concepts developed the mobility plan for St. Augustine. It has also worked with Longboat Key, Venice, North Port, Altamonte Springs, Maitland, Alachua County, Osceola County and Sarasota County.

Jonathan B. Paul founded the company, which has offices in Palm Beach Gardens, Bradenton and Gainesville.

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