Confronting strong public opposition to its proposed lane reduction along the Twin Pairs through downtown, the Vero Beach City Council planned to consider three other, less-draconian options at a special call meeting Tuesday afternoon.
Its choices included:
Option 3: Making only minor safety improvements on the strategic stretch of State Road 60 between the Florida East Coast Railway tracks and 20th Avenue without any lane repurposing.
Option 4: Eliminating the far-left westbound lane of State Road 60 – only between 14th and 16th avenues – and replacing it with landscaped areas between bulb-outs to be constructed at new crosswalks at 15th and 16th avenues.
Approving Option 4 also would restore the traffic-calming measures a previous council favored only two years ago, when it voted to lower the speed limit to 35 mph, narrow driving lanes, add crosswalks and adjust the timing of traffic signals in the vicinity.
City Manager Monte Falls said the new bulb-outs and crosswalks at 15th and 16th avenues would make the area safer by increasing visibility for motorists and reducing the distance pedestrians must travel to cross State Road 60.
Mayor John Cotugno said the landscape enhancements would also improve the look and feel of that part of downtown.
In fact, Cotugno said he’s hoping the council can come to a compromise – albeit one that doesn’t include any significant lane reduction – because he believes the additional bulb-outs and crosswalks address legitimate safety concerns.
He said he also believes eliminating the far-left westbound lane of State Road 60 for a two-block stretch would not result in any noticeable disruption of traffic flow through the remaining three lanes.
Under Option 4, there would be no changes to the three eastbound lanes.
“The Twin Pairs debate has lingered in the city for too long,” Cotugno said. “If we can find a workable compromise that preserves the needed traffic flow, makes the area safer and improves the aesthetics of downtown, I’m all for it.”
The council majority that pushed hard for the lane reduction – Vice Mayor Linda Moore and members John Carroll and Rey Neville – no longer existed after Neville opted to not seek a third term and was replaced by newcomer Taylor Dingle in last month’s election.
Dingle has joined council member Tracey Zudans in opposing the proposal, but he has not ruled out accepting a compromise that doesn’t substantially reduce lanes. Cotugno, meanwhile, has said he does not believe a sitting council should override a previous council’s decision unless an egregious mistake was made.
As for Moore, she has witnessed during public presentations this fall the community’s resounding rejection of any plan to reduce lanes along the Twin Pairs and has recently expressed a willingness to discuss a compromise.
And for good reason: She sees there’s no chance the Florida Department of Transportation will approve the lane-reduction proposal – all five County Commission members also have said they oppose the plan – and knows some improvements are better than none.
Zudans, a staunch fiscal conservative, has vehemently opposed the lane-reduction proposal from the outset, but she might be willing to entertain a compromise if there’s no cost to taxpayers.
Falls and his staff are trying to convince FDOT to cover the costs of the new bulb-outs, arguing they’re needed to address safety concerns. If the state refuses, the city could use Economic Development Zone funds to pay for the improvements.
As of last week, Carroll appeared to still support the drastic lane reduction proposal.
“It’ll be a process, but I think we’ll get three votes,” said Cotugno, who seemed to be leaning toward Option 4. “Four votes would be a resounding victory.”
The special-call session was scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall and was to be held separate from the council’s regular meeting at 9:30 a.m.
Falls suggested the council consider other options after the final public presentation on Nov. 16 at the Vero Beach Community Center, where community residents continued to criticize the lane-reduction proposal.
Immediately after the presentation ended, he and his staff held an impromptu meeting with the city’s hired engineering consultant, Kimley-Horn & Associates, to discuss the openness of some council members to finding a compromise.
They came up with four options.
Already, however, Option 1 – the all-encompassing plan presented to the community by Kimley-Horn, which earlier this year conducted the latest Twin Pairs traffic study and concluded the roadway has the capacity to absorb a reduction to two lanes in each direction – appears to be dead.
Option 2 is the same plan, but it excludes a parallel-parking component along State Road 60, where those spaces would be replaced by diagonal striping to eliminate the lane for use by vehicular traffic.
A significant majority of residents who spoke at three public presentations cited the obvious dangers and traffic backups that would result from allowing parallel parking along a lane-reduced State Road 60.
Only a handful of speakers said they’d accept the plan if the parallel parking was removed.
The council was set to conduct its final vote on the Twins Pairs plan at the special-call meeting and send its recommendation to FDOT officials, who imposed a Jan. 1 deadline.
After being elected in November 2022, Carroll and Moore joined the already-seated Neville in voting to dump the previous council’s Twin Pairs traffic-calming plan and resurrect a long-debated effort to reduce downtown lanes along the county’s major east-west corridor.
They still contend the lane reduction is necessary to revitalize Vero Beach’s downtown, though there is no meaningful evidence to support their claim.