Resident calls on tourism officials to address safety

Tourism safety
Tourism officials discussed the need for more safety measures like this lighted pedestrian crosswalk sign on Anna Maria Island. - Cindy Lane | Sun

HOLMES BEACH – Resident Nancy Deal challenged tourism officials on Monday to address pedestrian deaths and other safety issues created by thriving tourism on Anna Maria Island.

Noting the recent death of a woman visitor and the injury of her husband while they were crossing the street in Holmes Beach in January, Deal said, “I challenge this council to create a safety task force made up of conscionable stakeholders who have some responsibility in marketing for and profiting from tourism and development.

“If there are more accidents involving tourists – you want to get rid of us pesky locals, anyway, right? – what will that mean to the tourism industry on the island or in the county?”

Tourism safety
Nancy Deal

After relating several recent incidences that she witnessed where bicyclists, pedestrians and vehicles were at odds, she concluded, “AMI is not a brand. Manatee County is not a brand. We are a community of living things – plants, animals, human beings – with the right to safety, security and the opportunity to survive and thrive in peace.”

Manatee County Tourist Development Council (TDC) Chair Carol Whitmore acknowledged the problem, which is most evident during January, February and March.

“It was rough. Very rough,” Whitmore said about the height of the season. “But to say the TDC does not want citizens to be here is 100 percent wrong. I still live here. The reason why people come here from all over the world is because of the residents.

“I don’t want to lose the character of the Island. This is a big reason why people come to visit this destination,” she said. “I don’t know what we could do as a TDC to ensure that.”

There is “a major need” for safe pedestrian and bike pathways, TDC member and Island restaurateur Ed Chiles said, adding, “We have to look at solutions.”

Meanwhile, “When I’m at the end of Pine Avenue, I have to get myself in a completely different mindset,” Chiles said. “I just have to know I’m going 7 to 12 miles an hour.”

“I change my itinerary in season,” he said. “If I’m going to Mar Vista on Longboat Key, I know there’s 45 minutes to daydream or make phone calls coming back up.”

The good news, he said, is, “We’re in demand.”

Locals know that “If you want to come out here in the morning, you have to be here by 9 o’clock, and if you want to come in the evening you come after 5 or 6,” TDC member Jack Rynerson said.

It’s not just a problem on the Island, but also in Bradenton, TDC member and Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston said, adding that it’s not just tourism creating the problem; the area also is attracting more residents.

“We have to be more patient than we are,” he suggested.

“There’s no one silver bullet, but we are reclaiming some of our right of way,” Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy told the TDC. “Over the years, people have encroached onto the right of way. It’s a painful process, people buy a house and the right of way is already cultivated,” he said, adding that the city, after lengthy discussions with property owners, is taking back a little of the right of way at a time.

Multimodal transportation would seem to be the answer, Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Elliott Falcione said.

The TDC has endorsed water ferries and recommended tourist tax money for Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach pier renovations, but Island cities “apparently aren’t sure if they want to do that or not,” he said. “They need to decide. There’s no need to spend dollars from the tourism coffer if cities don’t want it.”

Nancy Deal’s presentation

“A few weeks ago, an 80-year-old tourist was struck by a car and killed at the curve on Gulf Drive in Holmes Beach, which is at the end of our street. Around that same time, another tourist was struck by a car in Bradenton Beach and was, fortunately, only injured.

My husband and I have been year-round residents on AMI since 2001. We ride our bikes from tip to tip of AMI and from the Gulf to the Intracoastal. Last month we witnessed the busiest season for bikers and pedestrians in our experience. We saw many, many large groups of families with children of all ages on bikes, in carriers, and in bike strollers dragged behind mom or dad’s bike. It has not been unusual for us to see groups of 12 riding on Gulf Drive at the spot where the tourist was killed.

As locals can tell you, visitors to the island are understandably self-absorbed in enjoying their vacation and seem to lose their sense of caution, common sense and knowledge of common rules of the road. It is harrowing to drive on the island, sharing the very narrow streets with bikes, pedestrians, construction vehicles, landscaper trucks and trailers, pool company trucks, garbage trucks, Segway, golf carts, utility trucks, dump trucks, bulldozers, 18-wheelers delivering food and beer, and of course, other cars.

As Chief Tokajer can tell you, every week a new batch of thousands of visitors means another heroic effort to educate them about local ordinances and safety issues. Locals advise visitors about safe bike and walking routs as often as we can. Why, just last week, I was trying to direct a man pushing a baby in a stroller trying to cross busy Gulf Drive to a nearby crosswalk and he told me to * myself. In essence our city has to endlessly protect visitors from themselves and others, while trying to mandate the day-to-day administrative duties that any city has.

If the industries of tourism, real estate, rentals, hospitality and development continue to entice more and more people to AMI and Manatee County, with the promise of paradise and bicycle and pedestrian-friendly streets, and they profit from those people – those industries need to take  a much more aggressive responsibility for the safety of everyone who comes here and lives here.

Last week we were driving around that curve on Gulf Drive and met an old woman walking just off the street. There are no sidewalks there, no crosswalks, no bike lanes, very little berm on either side of the road. Same day, on the way home, same spot, we passed an older man walking in the street with no way to be seen by oncoming traffic.

I challenge this council to create a safety task force made up of conscionable stakeholders who have some responsibility in marketing for and profiting from tourism and development. If there are more accidents involving tourists (you want to get rid of us pesky locals, anyway, right?), what will that mean to the tourism industry on the island or in the county? That said, there are many business folks on the island who benefit from tourists who sincerely care about the hearts, souls and the safety of everyone in our community and I am sure they would be interested.

Finally, I want you to understand – AMI is not a brand. Manatee County is not a brand. We are a community of living things – plants, animals, human beings – with the right to safety, security and the opportunity to survive and thrive in peace.”

In other business:

  • The TDC heard a request from Beverly Lesnick, chair of the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce, to take into consideration the amount of tourist tax produced by Anna Maria Island versus Longboat Key when allocating tourist tax proceeds to each chamber.
  • Whitmore noted that Holmes Beach tourism is down compared to the other two Island cities. Falcione responded that many factors could contribute, but that flat visitation is good when average daily rates are up.
  • Murphy thanked the TDC for recommending funding for the Anna Maria City Pier. He announced that construction should begin in August 2018 and be completed by December 2019.
  • The county’s tourism consultant, Walter Klages, said that 97.6 percent of the people who visit the Bradenton area are satisfied with the destination, that the European market is growing and that an Irish market is emerging.
  • The Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau hosted 25 travel writers in 2017, attended media events in the UK, Atlanta and Dallas and launched a new website.
  • The board acknowledged the resignation of board member David Teitelbaum and announced plans to honor him for his service at the next meeting in June.