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Growing Pains

Posted on Nov 01, 2014 in Bike Traffic , November-December 2014

Bike racks fill up quickly in Seaside, prompting people to park bikes on vacant grass on either side of the town center. Photo by Eric Pate

30A traffic is a sign of maturity by Eric Pate

What makes 30A unique? Why not spend your time on Front Beach Road in Panama City Beach or Harbor Boulevard in Destin? The beach is the same so there must be another reason why South Walton can see more than three million visitors per year. The biggest difference between 30A and surrounding beachfront communities is design. Panama City Beach and Destin have been designed primarily for the car while 30A accommodates the car, but is also designed for people. This difference must be considered an asset and the area’s main strength by locals and those in local government, if the unique build and natural environment of South Walton is to be preserved for future generations.

As 2014 comes to a close, citizens of 30A will reflect on the large number of visitors of the past summer and begin to make preparations for the next. One of the largest impacts of such large groups of visitors on 30A is traffic. At times traffic volumes can reach frustrating levels for many. This frustration has led some to make the accusation that 30A has become a failed roadway. This label can be problematic as it entails that action must be taken immediately to allow cars to travel faster. It’s not the roadway that has failed but conventional suburban standards placed on traditionally designed communities that cause friction for many.

Efforts to increase parking and vehicle speeds along 30A can be detrimental if we value the unique nature of 30A. South Walton is at a crossroads. Should we design for the automobile, a constantly-available-free-parking-everywhere approach that has produced Panama City Beach and Destin, or should we take care to provide the facilities that help people get around that respect the context of the built environment? Providing free parking for peak volumes will dismantle the bicycle culture of 30A and lower the quality of our communities.

The immediate future of transportation along 30A will be multi-faceted. 30A must be shared by cars, bicycles, pedestrians, and community shuttles. By sharing 30A, some modes will not be given free reign in influencing street design as they have in conventional suburban communities across the country. A successful shuttle service is in everyone’s interest. The community at large must make an effort to promote the existing shuttle services next summer. Routes should be promoted as often as possible by making them visible. Posting routes in restaurants, bars, shops, and in all rental properties is an important role that the community can play in supporting the service. With an extended route servicing all of 30A, congestion can be alleviated.

Another important intervention would be the installation of park-and-ride lots along Highway 98 with shuttle service to 30A, which would allow visitors to leave their vehicles outside of the 30A corridor. As the shuttle service is strengthened, the formalization of the stops along 30A should be facilitated through encouraging mixed-use development in the vicinity. These transit nodes can be served by a variety of informal transit options such as peso cabs and pedi-cabs. This effort will help to preserve regional natural assets while embracing our network of unique pedestrian-friendly communities.

During the summer, 3,000 cyclists could be on Seaside each day. Photo by Eric Pate

The regulatory tools to achieve this vision are already in place. The progressive land use regulations of Walton County are well known and should be a point of pride for our community. Efforts to create a valued region characterized by a balance of conservation lands and unique communities of the past should be revisited and brought to the forefront of the discussion of what South Walton can become. The South Walton Conservation and Development Plan of the mid-‘90s should guide future development and form the framework of future county planning efforts.

During my time working here in Seaside as an intern for the Seaside Institute over the summer, I have been impressed by the strong conviction of residents to play an active role in shaping their community. This is due to the pride felt by residents in the community and a desire to ensure a common positive vision for the future. Watching the communities of 30A mature over the years has instilled a strong emotional attachment for me with the area. I hope to bring the lessons I’ve learned working here with me as I complete my degree in Urban and Regional Planning at the University of New Orleans and further into my professional career. It is evident that the communities of 30A have been presented with a valuable opportunity to continue to embrace traditional design, an opportunity that too many other communities have failed to act upon. The opportunity to preserve our truly unique and valued region is a position that we can all stand behind.