Holiday crowds, traffic overwhelming

Holiday crowds, traffic overwhelming
Cars were parked up and down Gulf Drive near Coquina Beach during Memorial Day weekend. - Submitted

BRADENTON BEACH – Bradenton Beach officials are concerned about the overcrowding and parking issues that occurred at and around Coquina Beach and Cortez Beach during Memorial Day weekend.

A 6:28 a.m. on Tuesday, May 28, Lt. John Cosby from the Bradenton Beach Police Department sent Mayor John Chappie an email regarding these concerns. Cosby also sent Chappie several pictures taken by one of his officers.

“We had over 27,000 people. A normal holiday is 15,000 to 19,000 people. We wrote approximately 200 parking tickets and estimate there were 700 vehicles parked illegally in the dunes – double-parked and on the state right of way. We broke up five fights and escorted 10 people out of the park. The park did not clear out until 11 p.m. (on Sunday) and traffic was backed up over the Longboat Key bridge until 11 p.m. also,” Cosby wrote.

When contacted, Cosby said “Sunday was the worst day. It was out of control. The ones that parked illegally all over the right of the way were given $50 tickets and they said they really didn’t care. A sheriff’s deputy said that at one point traffic was backed up all the way to 51st Street West on Cortez Road.”

When asked later why this year was so much busier, Cosby said, “I have no idea.”

The city has an interlocal agreement with the county that provides county funds to pay for city police patrols of the Coquina and Cortez beach areas. The city patrols are supplemented by Manatee County Sheriff’s deputies upon request during holiday weekends and special events when heavier crowds are expected, including Memorial Day weekend.

Chappie expresses concerns

Chappie briefly addressed these public safety concerns during the City Commission’s abbreviated commission workshop on Tuesday morning. He told the commission he planned to share these concerns with county commissioners later that day at their budget planning session.

“There’s some major issues that we have to work out before July Fourth weekend,” Chappie said.

When addressing county commissioners and County Administrator Cheri Coryea, Chappie said, “In your budgeting process, you need to please put some money down for security. With the number of people that are coming to our beaches, you just cannot imagine. We’re getting together some statistics and pictures and I’m sure through your departments you’re going to find out how crazy it was.

“We had one officer who was told ‘We’re glad they shoot cops now.’ It was just a matter of trying to manage the situation, it wasn’t trying to enforce rules because you had too many people out there. You couldn’t even see the sand because the umbrellas on the beach at Coquina Beach were packed so tight. Your lifeguards, God bless them, I don’t know how they could do anything. It’s not safe, and I appreciate Cheri jumping on it and working on it,” Chappie said.

Chappie also said he hopes to meet with county officials soon to formulate plans for the upcoming holiday weekends.