(WMG) Matt LaMariana gets annoyed every time he looks out the window of his business at 2365 Wilton Manors Drive and sees the congestion caused by construction crews.

The section of Wilton Manors Drive outside Boomerangs thrift store is in the midst of a road narrowing project, aimed at slowing traffic and making the area more pedestrian-friendly. 

LaMariana said the timing couldn’t be worse.

“I would love to know the rocket scientist who decided this project needed to be done at the height of tourist and holiday season,” LaMariana said. Someone from the Wilton Manors Improvement District recently contacted him about promoting his business on their website. But as far as LaMariana is concerned, it’s a moot point.

“It’s a little too late to be asking for my input to promote my business that they have already started hurting. If people are going to avoid Wilton Drive because of traffic and construction, that doesn’t do any good,” he said.

Themuch-anticipated project to narrow Northeast Fourth Avenue/Wilton Drive from Sunrise Boulevard to Northeast 26th Street to two-lanes began in August.

The Florida Department of Transportation project that will include 7-foot-wide bicycle lanes is progressing north to downtown Wilton Manors. The project will widen sidewalks, upgrade pedestrian signals and modify pedestrian curb ramps to meet ADA requirements, upgrade roadway and pedestrian lighting, install new drainage structures and upgrade the existing drainage system.

LaMariana is concerned because parking downtown is already at a premium, and the ongoing construction eliminates some of the on-street parking as it progresses.

He already has to chase after motorists who park their cars in his business lot and leave for other businesses.

“No parking forces me to become the parking Nazi. I spend far too much my time worrying about people parking here and wandering off on the weekend,” LaMariana said. “There is nothing more frustrating than seeing the parking lot full and have someone drive by because there is nowhere to park.”

His frustration has reached a boiling point: he is planning to move his business out of the city in the near future because of parking issues and high rent.

Across the street at Gallery XO, co-owner Maciel Cantiero is aware of the coming construction but isn’t overly worried.

He’s heard the construction will last two to three weeks when it reaches his business at 2376 Wilton Drive and figures his customers will be able to park somewhere reasonably close.

He isn’t worried that customers may have to walk a few blocks to get to his business. He is worried though that the parking meters they are required to feed will expire and they will get ticketed.

Cantiero thinks the city should stop charging for the metered parking during the day when parking is usually widely available. Wilton Manors makes most of its parking revenue during the evening, when the bars and nightclubs are hopping and parking anywhere is tough to find, he said.

“The only thing I would want them to change is the parking being charged from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Why don’t they give people a break?” Cantiero said. “I have had clients come in to the framing shop and all of a sudden they go out and they have a ticket - because we get busy and it takes longer than 15 minutes to do the framing - most of the busy part of it is during the weekends. They shouldn’t have those meters running during the day.”

Cantiero likes the idea of Wilton Manors being narrowed to one lane. He lives in a condo above his business and said he has seen many bad accidents due to speeding right below his home. 

“I have seen nasty accidents — one guy lost control at 5 a.m. and hit a palm tree and knocked down a lamp post. Another time a guy flipped over on the corner of Wilton Manors Drive and Ninth Avenue,” said Cantiero, who’s been in business 11 years.  “Making it one lane in each direction is not going to allow people to go crazy and drive like maniacs.”

He thinks a parking garage would be a good solution to the city’s parking woes.

“Parking issues in the city continue to get worse. It’s always been bad,” he said. 

Down the street at To the Moon vintage candy, gift and novelty shop, owner Antonio Dums has been watching the road narrowing project with interest.

He thinks it is a great thing and can’t wait for it to be complete.

“I am for it because it is going to slow traffic, save lives and make the businesses more visible,” said Dums, whose store has been at 2205 Wilton Drive for 14 years. “It works on Las Olas in Fort Lauderdale and it works on A1A in Lauderdale-By-the-Sea. The smaller the area, the more pedestrian-friendly. There will be more pedestrian walks and more greenery. It will help the environment and it will have curb appeal. The people who are whining about having to pay $2 and walk a few blocks, so what. If you want to go to a business, you go to the business.”

Wilton Manors Mayor Justin Flippen said the narrowing project has been planned for more than a decade.

“Once FDOT is complete we will have more of a viable main street where motorists won’t just race through the heart of the city while pedestrians have their hearts race as they risk their safety getting from one side of the road to the other,” Flippen said. “We’ll have improved sidewalks and crosswalks for pedestrians, better bicycle lanes, and more of a tree canopy - all to create a more inviting business corridor to which residents can walk from their homes and a destination to which visitors will include in their travel to come and spend time shopping, dining, or exploring our nightlife, art galleries, and museums."

The road reconfiguration is expected to take about a year. After completion, the landscape/streetscape phase of the project will commence. 

The construction and landscaping phases can’t be done simultaneously because state rules don’t permit two phases of the same project to occur at the same time.

The state of Florida and the Metropolitan Planning Organization are paying for the approximately $5-6 million project. The city of Wilton Manors will pay for the streetscaping in downtown Wilton Manors.

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