Florida Keys

Is Key West ready for a pedestrian-only zone on Duval Street? We’ll find out Friday

Tourists and locals travel the 500 block of Duval Street on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019.
Tourists and locals travel the 500 block of Duval Street on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. FLKeysNews.com

Key West’s most famous street isn’t getting a makeover.

But three blocks will transform into a pedestrian-only zone from 5 p.m. to midnight every weekend through April 27.

City leaders hope the the big change, which starts on Friday, will please visitors and also attract locals who have sworn off Duval Street because of maddening traffic that at times pits cars, bikes, scooters, pedicabs, skateboarders and pedestrians against each other.

“No vehicles, only pedestrians,” City Manager Jim Scholl said Thursday.

The car-free zone was created to “stimulate economic activity, and provide lessons learned for potential expansion of restricted vehicle events,” according to a memo from the city’s engineering. The plan emulates other pedestrian malls such as Lincoln Road in South Beach; St. Augustine’s George Street; Boulder, Colorado’s Pearl Street; San Diego’s Seaport Village; and parts of Bourbon Street in New Orleans.

The pedestrian-only zone will cover the 500, 600 and 700 blocks of Duval — from Fleming to Petronia streets — only for those 23 nights, or 11 weekends.

Since this is Presidents’ Day weekend, the pedestrian mall will be open Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. Future vehicle-free weekends will be Friday and Saturday only.

“This is not a tourist attraction,” Mayor Teri Johnston said at the Feb. 5 City Commission meeting when the decision was made in a 6-1 vote. “This is for us, the people who live here every single day.”

The idea, which a band of local businesses call the “Mall on Duval” has been tossed around City Hall for years but never got past design work.

“If you are visiting Key West, the city invites you with open arms to join our grand opening,” said the Central Duval District, a group of local business owners promoting the project. “For those that are local, we encourage you to rediscover Duval Street like you’ve never seen it before”

A ribbon-cutting ceremony is set for 6 p.m. at the corner of Duval and Southard streets with Johnston and city commissioners expected to attend.

The pedestrian-only mall program will cost the city up to $5,600 per night to pay for extra policing and community services.

And the pilot program doesn’t take away any Duval Street parking: there is no legal paid parking along the three blocks.

Gwen Filosa covers Key West and the Lower Florida Keys for FLKeysNews.com and the Miami Herald and lives in Key West. She was part of the staff at the New Orleans Times-Picayune that in 2005 won two Pulitzer Prizes for coverage of Hurricane Katrina. She graduated from Indiana University.