Sunday, March 27, 2005

A Rolling Parking Lot - And No Parking Anywhere!

THis blog was initiated by an article by Sandy Feet, who was cussing a fit because she couldn't park next to the beach for a sand castle lesson she was giving, and almost got her van towed away.

Imagine a time when you can't drive a car anywhere on the Island except at maybe 5 MPH during the peak times. Imagine a time when you can't find a parking place anywhere on the Island - including your own darned house! Imagine a time when it takes over an hour to get across the causeway, not counting Spring Break.

Well, that time is right now. True, it only happens during special occassions but it will only get worse as time goes on, more folks move to the Island, and more tourists show up for their vacations because there are more houses and condo and hotel units. That's what we get for becoming the "Texas Riviera."

True, the spikes still come on Friday afternoon and most folks leave on Sunday, although Memorial Day and July 4th tend to make the duration a little longer. I don't have any statistics but what is happening is that more people are on the Island between Monday and Thursday. Eventual growth could lead to eventual gridlock.

Let's do some basic transportation planning. Divided highways such as the Queen Isabella Causaeway with two lanes each way can probably handle 50,000 vehicles a day. However, they end up in an undivided "main drag" with a 30 MPH limit that probably reduces it to 25,000 a day. So if you have 25,000 vehicles a day, you are going to have Level of Service (LOS) "E", where the traffic falls below 50% of the speed limit. That would be 15 MPH. I'm not good with graphics in a blog like this, but the curve in exponential, so if you have, say, 30,000 vehicles a day, the traffic will be almost stopped, which technically is called "stop'n'go" or a "giant rolling parking lot" (LOS G - being funny here). Add just one traffic accident and you have the recipe for a true disaster, expecially if there is (Lord forbid) a hurricane or high-rise fire.

Locals - and folks like me who are moving to the Island but know the place well - know how people will hit the side streets so as to gain some footage on the main drag traffic. This was particularly true on the night of July 4th, 2004. I personally watched starting at 12:15 until the road was free-flow (no delay) at about 3:15 in the morning. That was a 3-hour traffic "rush hour." At that later time, the traffic on the Causeway seemed to move OK, although there were two major accidents in the clearing stages. The cars racing down the side roads were incredible, some attaining over 60 MPH (with people still walking on the side of the road). Many had tricked-out muffler systems so they sounded like farting airplanes or something.

South Padre didn't plan for all this traffic and they didn't plan for all the vehicles to park somewhere. If the transportation plan for South Padre is bogus, the parking plan is nonexistent. My suggestion was to direct visitors to places such as over-flow parking near Louis' and the Convention Center, using shuttles, but this idea probably makes too much sense to be adopted without a good fight and the kybosh. Another suggestion was that locals (local driver's license, local utility bill) would get special parking permits in addition to the Hurricane Sticker.

If we don't develop plans for traffic and parking, we'll end up like tons of other coastal tourist spots that have horrendous problems. Possibly the worst is on a small island called Block Island, Rhode Island. Here the walkers, bicyclists, and runners go faster than the cars downtown, which makes everyone mad and then the Mopeds follow the bikers and blow through and it is a complete mess. On South Padre island, the cars will hit the emergency/pedestrial lane as well as the center "idiot" turn-out lane, sometimes with disasterous results.

But don't take just my word for all this, and how the situation is so dire. The local Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) engineer, a real nice guy, can fix you up with all the vehicle counts at certain points in South Padre. Now, these counts are based on those black rubber tube thingies (pneumatic counters) you drive over, and only reflect Monday-Thursday traffic, but when compared over the years, you'll get a good sense of what is happening over time. You can then ask for a special study to measure weekend and holiday vehicle peak traffic and see if TXDOT can fund it. Be sure to ask for the traffic recorders to be set out on Thursday and taken in Monday - these guys and gals travel all Texas and do not work Fridays or the weekends. Just having automated data from the Causeway doesn't give you the whole picture, so don't fall for that one.

The parking problem is just a function of traffic volume. It's that easy, except forecasting how much "over-flow" parking is needed would require a little more effort and maybe some grant writing. If you'd like a second opinion, please contact Mr. Dennis Perkinson of the Texas Transportation Institute, Texas A&M. Tell him Sam Wells sent ya! We're old buds. I'll let him know you're onto him ...


Everett said...
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Everett said...

Damn Sam, it sounds like you are moving onto one of the L.A. freeways! Sure you don't want to move up here? It only happens about ten or eleven times a day in the summer and then it only lasts for about 8-10 minutes! I am S-o-o-o happy there is no bridge here. Everett

Sam said...

Darn you Red Baron! Well, this town has aboout 2,500 residents and one heck of a bridge with gobs of traffic. I wasn't there, but a barge whacked the bridge right after 9/11/2001 and the Islanders said it got real peaceful there for a while. Wild coyotes and deer walking right down the main drag. I'll be back, Everett! -Sam