Bike/Pedestrian coordinator quits

BY PRU SOWERS

KONK LIFE STAFF WRITER

Less than two years after a new city staff position was created to help Key West combat traffic congestion and parking problems, the bicycle/pedestrian coordinator has resigned.

Chris Hamilton submitted his resignation on Aug. 30, writing that he has accepted a position as Administrator for the Old Island Restoration Foundation and the opportunity to help “preserve the architectural and cultural heritage of the island was too good to pass up.” His last day will be Sept. 13.

In his 20 months on the job, which paid a salary of $46,557, Hamilton led several efforts to cut the ties between people and their cars. For over a decade Key West has ranked 1st out of 97 Florida cities with a population between 15,000 and 75,000 in bicycle injuries and fatalities. In addition, it was wavered between 3rd and 12th place for pedestrian injuries and fatalities.

One of the first things Hamilton did after being hired was push to create a bicycle master plan that safely connects bikers, walkers and drivers. He helped find grant money to fund the project and then managed the bid process to hire a qualified company to develop the master plan. City commissioners awarded the $148,000 contract to Toole Design Group in January and the master plan is approximately 60 percent completed.

Hamilton was also instrumental in the city’s current “Car-Free Key West” campaign, which urges residents and visitors to use alternate modes of transportation. And the free Duval Loop circulator bus kicked off Labor Day weekend, designed to shuttle tourists and workers around the downtown area.

Some city officials believe Hamilton quit in part because he was frustrated over the difficulty in getting approval for some proposed programs aimed at accomplishing his mission. After being directed by city commissioners to create a bike sharing program, where bicycles are rented on a short-term basis for transportation around town, Hamilton’s program was rejected at the Aug. 15 commission meeting as being too large and ambitious. Commissioner Margaret Romero singled Hamilton out for public criticism on how the vendor scoring process was handled, causing Commissioner Sam Kaufman to apologize to Hamilton for Romero’s remarks.

“Yes, unfortunately I do,” Kaufman said when asked if he thought the public shellacking Hamilton took at the Aug. 15 meeting contributed to his departure. “I know that it will be very difficult to replace him with even close to the experience, skill and knowledge level that Chris has. I hope that the position is not eliminated.”

Commissioner Clayton Lopez said that while Hamilton was moving on to a substantive new job, he wouldn’t have been looking unless he was unhappy in his city position.

“I can imagine Chris is frustrated because so many of the things he tried to put forward didn’t go as planned,” Lopez said, adding, “If we’re trying to be a car-free destination… it’s certainly a goal we need to strive for. I think we need somebody [in the position]. It’s important.”

But Hamilton said in an email to Konk Life that he accepted the position with Old Island Restoration Foundation because he has always been interested in historic preservation and the new job will be an opportunity to “make the city better in a different capacity.

“No truth to the rumor,” Hamilton said about the reason for his resignation. “Bikeshare wasn’t even my idea or priority. City Commission and management asked for the RFP and made it a priority. I did so.”