Jacksonville Beach parking to be scarce on 4th of July

Police ask beachgoers to be patient

By Tarik Minor - Anchor, I-TEAM reporter

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. - Mike Sarles refuses to move his pickup truck from his own driveway, knowing if he does, visitors in town for the Fourth of July will snag his personal parking space.

"I'm staying right there. I'm not moving," the Jacksonville Beach resident said. "I've got a bike and will walk to stores and restaurants if I need to."

Sarles expects hundreds of people to be scrambling for parking spaces Thursday as all try to find their spot in the sand for the Fourth of July fireworks.

"There's always congestion with a big event, and there's not a whole lot they can do," he said. "There's only a few ways in, a few ways out."

Police are asking people coming to the beach to remain patient, pointing to a number of traffic pattern changes put in place to keep the vehicles moving.

The one thing beachgoers will notice is a change in the traffic patterns after 5 p.m. on the Fourth along southbound Third Street. Drivers will not be able to make a left turn to the beach. In fact, the only place they can will be on 16th Avenue. Police say it will cut down on accidents.

"That's such a congested area and people do that right when they are about to turn, so we do that to eliminate traffic crashes in heavy pedestrian traffic areas," said Sgt. Thomas Crumley, of the Jacksonville Beach Police Department.

Police admit there will likely be more vehicles than parking spaces on Thursday, which is why visitors should be prepared to walk further than they normally would.

"Everyone's driving around, getting crazy sometimes," Sarles said. "I see people driving and yelling at people on bicycles sometimes. It gets a little wild."

As for safety in Jacksonville Beach, some say the police response since the Memorial Day brawl is overkill.

"Everywhere, there's five on every corner," resident Tiffani Allyson said. "That's way too much. We've got things on the city to worry about, not over here, not over here."

Officials say seven police agencies assisting Jacksonville Beach is part of the plan make sure they keep the peace on July 4.

"It's almost like we don't want to come out here," Allyson said. "I mean, I know they had the fights out and all that on the beach."

"Inappropriate conduct won't be tolerated," Crumley said. "We just ask and remind everyone this is a family event. If you see criminal activity, call 911 and we'll handle it appropriately."

Police, on the other hand, say their presence is necessary.

"Families should know there's going to be a heavy police presence and they will have a good and safe time," Crumley said.

Some locals say police have given them exactly what they wanted with more officers on the streets. Police say they'll be focusing on cracking down on alcohol consumption, breaking up fights and identifying gang activity.

"I know they have a tough job, I know from living here there's more trouble on this side of the beach rather than Neptune Beach," Jacksonville Beach resident Ernie Debacco said. "Neptune Is more family-oriented. This is trouble sometimes."

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