Hard Candy: The Beaches of Copenhagen
It’s that time of year, where the sun breaks through the veil of pollen and grey clouds and we remember, hey, we live in paradise. Well, paradise with a traffic jam. As much as I loved living on the beach, I never loved the traffic this time of year.
Of course, that’s a good problem to have – too many people crowding into your shops and restaurants. And, despite the hopefully fading lawsuits and chronic naysayers who hate everything the city tries to do, things are finally looking up on St. Pete Beach for the residents as well as the sand seekers and sun worshippers.
Why do I say that? Look at the most recent election – the one the city didn’t hold. District Three Commissioner Jim Parent had no opponent yet again, and I’m fairly certain he’s likely to hold that post until he needs a nurse to wipe the spittle from his lower lip. District Four welcomed new commissioner Melinda Pletcher without so much as a peep from anyone. Clearly people are happy enough with the way government’s running on the sandbar.
Given the community’s apparent satisfaction with its leadership, it makes no sense to me how people could not trust it when they suggest creating a couplet, a system of two one-way streets that would slow down traffic around Corey Avenue and allow for pedestrian and bicycle crossover between east and west Corey. The couplet has met with resistance from from some people, and I understand their concerns. They feel it would leave their businesses behind.
Understanding their concerns doesn’t mean I don’t think they’re short-sighted and disagree. The couplet not only slows people down along what former planner Catherine Hartley called a “traffic sewer”; in doing so, it gives people a chance to see Corey and the shops there.
The couplet would give St. Pete Beach a chance to show off its downtown and attract people to West Corey businesses (instead of letting them whiz right by them) but more than that, it allows for increased bike and pedestrian. That would likely appeal to our foreign visitors, many of whom don’t rely as heavily on cars (look at the size of their stomachs if you need proof they walk or bike a lot more than we do). Up and down the beach we see these visitors walking from the Publix to their hotels and restaurants. Despite that, we’ve yet to make our beach pedestrian-friendly. The couplet would change that and, in turn, make us even more appealing to European visitors.
My friend and now world-traveler Shelly spent three years living under the lukewarm Denmark sun, and when I mentioned the couplet and the outcry against it, she shook her head, puzzled. Shelly, I should note, loves her Honda Element and isn’t in any danger of surrendering it anytime soon (especially after three years of bringing groceries and beer home on a bike in 20 degree weather), but she pointed out that Copenhagen… well, here, let me just quote her:
“Copenhagen made a very conscious decision, back in the 1960s when motorized traffic was taking over the city center, to make bikers and pedestrians a priority. The result? It’s a bitch to drive through, but who wants to? (Denmark also has a 180% tax on cars and some of the most expensive gas in Europe, but that’s another story.)
“I think any prioritizing of bikers and pedestrians is a great thing, especially for visitors, European or otherwise. And for locals, what you get is a place where people will be slowly passing your business. Copenhagen has the longest pedestrian street in the world and let me tell you, rent is not cheap. Those businesses do quite well.”
She makes some excellent points, although please, don’t tell her as those sorts of compliments just go straight to her head. I’ll be honest with you: I have no desire to travel to Copenhagen. It’s cold. The sun has poor job performance. Apparently you can only get Carlsberg beer and they don’t have stone crab claws. But I am not so xenophobic as to think we couldn’t learn a lot from countries that don’t suck up as much gas and oil as we do. I may not want to lounge on the beaches of Copenhagen, but I do think we can learn a lot from the people who do.