Scenic Highway 30A is the lifeline for Seaside and our surrounding communities. Visitors and locals alike use 30A as the main artery to get to their destination. And why not? It’s a beautiful drive; the Gulf visible between homes and trees; the coastal dune lakes framing the landscape and houses which rest on our crystal white beaches. The breathtaking sunsets invite drivers to pull over and capture the hues of orange, blue, and pink as they dance above the water’s edge. To take another route is almost unthinkable.
The draw of nature’s beauty and the uniqueness of our area is also the basis of our traffic issues. During peak times, traffic moves at a snail’s pace, which on the one hand, allows us to enjoy the beauty of 30A, yet can dampen the experience by being stuck in traffic. Those of us who live here know this will only get worse before it gets better.
Walton County officials estimate there will be an additional 400,000 vehicle miles traveled in South Walton over the next 20 years. These estimates envision an increase in residents and visitors, even if there is no further development along 30A. This growth will happen, and the time to address the growing pains has come.
Identifying viable solutions that will address traffic, yet, allow us to continue to enjoy the beauty of 30A, presents a challenge the Seaside Institute has been working on for some time and recently succeeded in securing Walton County’s engagement.
As part of the process Walton County has hired the expert consultant firm, Nue Urban Concepts. The firm has assessed the traffic issues in the county and created model solutions that may alleviate the challenges this significant growth will bring. These models attempt to take into consideration both the workforce needs and travel demands along the 30A Corridor, and offer potential solutions for the various modes of travel, including pedestrian, bicycling, micro-mobility, automated vehicles, and automobiles.
On Sept. 13, 2019, the Seaside Institute hosted a public forum where the county publicized more than a dozen concepts of a multi-modal transportation system. Each model focused on road improvements and connectivity between communities that encourage a safe and interconnected network of lanes, paths and technology. The individual concepts endeavored to preserve the unique character of each area along 30A and the needs of the community.
Residents, business owners, and visitors engaged to review and comment on these ideas. They were encouraged to add their perspectives to the designs to ensure the final plan would work for our area.
The next step involved a second, similar gathering, which included key stakeholders in the design and execution of a final plan. The 30A Alliance Advisory Board, architects, engineers, private citizens and the county were among the groups and leaders who numbered more than 40 people to again review and comment on this next adaptation of the conceptual solutions. The scope of this November session was to recognize common ground and criteria while considering the social impact, as well as the aesthetic, environmental, economic, and safety priorities any plan must consider.
Our visitors patronize our shops and other businesses, socially interacting with local owners and other visitors, thereby driving our local economy. Our gathering areas and parks for public use are a defining social character of each community along 30A. Enhancing public spaces to become the place where people want to be, brings us together, and requires fundamental upkeep and consideration by locals and non-locals.
Reducing the use of single-drive vehicles will encourage walking through communities and enticing public areas will increase social engagement. How to successfully achieve this and change the single driver paradigm is still under discussion.
There was widespread support from attendees for protecting the unique characteristics of each community along 30A, and the county is committed to using existing aesthetics as a guiding principle to enhance, not alter the current community character.
Common aesthetic priorities for almost all communities included:
• Keeping the trees, and adding trees if possible
• Burying the utilities where possible, and a corresponding discussion on the inherent cost of making this happen
Protecting the environment is also a significant part of the planning.
• Protecting the state forest and coastal dune lakes
• Ensuring there is appropriate storm water treatment and including a sustainability initiative
The economics of the plan is the most elusive aspect. Yet, all agreed, the program must ensure that paying for the project should not create a barrier to visitors or employees who will be traveling here.
• A turn of phrase arose in the meeting: “slow down and enjoy the ride.” In the hopes to encourage visitors to appreciate the beauty of our area, and understand they can do this without their vehicles.
• The needs of businesses included sufficient parking while reducing the need for driving, including a multi-modal approach providing access to multiple geographic cross-sections and travel options.
• There is more discussion necessary to address the needs of support personnel and workers in each community along 30A.
Safety is always a priority in any community. All in attendance agreed the plan needs to accommodate multiple modes of transportation (multi-modal), with specific efforts to:
• Prevent fatalities
• Ensure fire and ambulance service accessibility
• Ensure safe transit at night with good lighting
• Safely accommodate the slower speeds of alternate transportation
Multi-mode transportation is, and has been, the hot topic of many cities throughout the United States. And it’s no different here in South Walton. Defining the best types of multi-modal options, especially in the context of “moving people, not cars,” was one main focus. Again, there is a broad consensus that the county plan must accommodate different types of travel in three different speed ranges. These ranges are defined as:
• Automobiles: traveling at 25-30 mph
• Electric golf carts, ATVs and low-speed vehicles (LSVs) moving at 10-15 mph – this includes electric bikes, speed-racing cyclers, electric scooters, etc.
• Biking and walking: traveling at 1-4 mph
Everyone also agreed that of the dozen or more concepts that no one idea can or will be applied to the entirety of the 30A Corridor. The best solution will have different structures and adaptations that will be the best fit for the individual community, topography, and area in which it will ultimately exist.
For Seaside, in particular, there are six different concepts, all of which include multi-modal transportation options listed above. Those who represented Seaside agreed that the best option considered a combination of the best points of the six individual concepts. The county’s consultant is now reviewing this modified concept for viability.
Ultimately the final plan will also serve as a basis to address transportation funding sources and parking for the projects identified within the County Mobility Plan. County officials, as well as Nue Urban Concepts Consulting Firm, who is collaborating with the county, will continue to revise the concepts according to the feedback and commentary provided by individuals and stakeholders. An additional public forum has been announced for the first week of February 2020, here in Seaside, where a public charette sponsored by the Seaside Institute and the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) will encourage the input from the general public, locals, businesses, and visitors. In addition to the charette, automated vehicles will be available for attendees to experience. Electric cars from mainstream carmakers will be on display and other activities that will add a fun factor to the week-long event. Please visit the Seaside Institute website (seasideinstitute.org) to stay up to date on the details, which will be added to the event information as they are confirmed.
Within topics like transportation, the environment, the economy, and quality of life, there can be polarizing opinions and beliefs. However, these two events encouraged and resulted in an open and positive dialogue between the county and attendees. Each engaged in discussing the various options, challenges, and the ultimate consensus that we all want what’s best for our county, the 30A corridor, its residents, businesses, and our visitors.
All the answers have yet to be defined. However, our communities have begun to come together to make significant, progressive, and positive strides in identify solutions for implementation once funding is secured.
The county’s mobility plan and the concepts discussed above can be found on the county website: co.walton.fl.us/1270/30-A-Conceptual-Street-Typicals
To stay up to date on the February Mobility Summit in Seaside, and see other upcoming events including the 2020 Seaside Prize, visit the Seaside Institute online.