ANNA MARIA ISLAND – With Memorial Day weekend just days away, Anna Maria, Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach are preparing for what could be record-breaking crowds.
While a number of visitors will fly to the area from around the U.S., Canada and Europe, the Island is also preparing for the thousands of Florida residents who will arrive by car.
Officials in all three cities encourage visitors to take advantage of public transportation options, but for many there is no option but to bring the car and hope for the best.
“We’ll be here through Memorial Day weekend. We drove from Atlanta so we have a car but we’re not crazy, the car won’t be leaving the condo all weekend,” said Terry Dosier, who arrived May 14 with his family. “Traffic hasn’t been bad since we got here, but we’ve talked to enough people to know it will be an entirely different animal for the holiday weekend.”
The Dosiers are staying in Holmes Beach, which is making every effort to accommodate the influx for the weekend, but there is only so much the city can do beyond offering the normal beach parking. According to Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer, there was an average of 39,000 cars per day coming into the city during the busy spring break season, and that number could be topped over Memorial Day weekend.
“We will be allowing parking at Anna Maria Elementary School for Memorial Day weekend, but no cars can be left on the lot overnight, and only legal parking spaces may be used,” said Tokajer, who stressed that all signs posted in the city must be observed and rules must be followed.
Bradenton Beach has been the scene of serious parking violations that number in the hundreds over the past few weeks. More than 100 tickets were written for double parking along Coquina Beach and Cortez Beach on Mother’s Day and close to 100 more were written the following weekend. Police could have written more, but some violators got lucky when police ran out of tickets.
“Double parking will not be tolerated; neither will parking in the right of way. We have signs out there and we’re not wanting to ticket people, but people get confused. They see the barricades that say no parking and don’t realize that those apply the entire length of Gulf Drive starting at the bridge,” said Bradenton Beach Police Lt. Lenard Diaz, whose advice to visitors is to come early.
“Use common sense, if you’re questioning where you’re parking then it’s probably not the right place to park,” he said.
All three cities plan to have extra officers on duty due to the large anticipated crowds, and all three cities will tow any vehicle that is blocking access for emergency vehicles. Depending on the tow company, vehicles could be taken more than 10 miles from where they were illegally parked, so in addition to the expensive tow cost, there is the cost of a ride to retrieve the vehicle. If not towed, tickets could range from $50 to more than $250 depending on the violation.
Plans for driving to the Island over Memorial Day weekend should also include allowing time to get across the three bridges that link Anna Maria Island to Bradenton, Cortez and Longboat Key. During busy holiday weekends, traffic can back up for miles, resulting in wait times that can be more than two hours at peak arrival times. With pedestrian crossings, trolley stops and other things unique to AMI, officials say it’s best to relax and accept the things that can’t be changed.