Members of the Siesta Key Condominium Association are urging the county to reduce the speed limit on Beach Road from 35 mph to 30 mph between the Midnight Pass Road stoplight and Siesta Village.
Although the Sarasota County Traffic Advisory Council plans to take up the matter during its Sept. 12 meeting, the final decision will rest with the County Commission, Efrain Duque, manager of the county’s Traffic Engineering office, told the Pelican Press.
In the meantime, Walt Olson, vice president of the condo association, has been building a case for the change. In fact, Olson conducted his own traffic study, with his wife as the guinea pig, during the height of season.
Residents who try to cross Beach Road at Beach Way to access Siesta Key Public Beach may push a button to turn on in-ground lights adjacent to a pedestrian walkway. Olson said drivers often ignore the warning lights. For two hours one day in March, he said his wife, Cala, tried to utilize the walkway while he observed traffic responses.
“About a third of the time she about got run over,” Olson said.
“We want the speed limit changed … so (drivers) can respond quicker” to the walkway lights, Olson added. “It’s all relatively low-cost. It would be good to do now.”
Given the county’s plans for improving Siesta Public Beach, Olson said, the odds are high that even more people will be on Beach Road in the future. And that means the potential for more problems.
In a May 16 letter to County Commission Chairwoman Nora Patterson, John Jodia, president of the Condo Association, wrote that the speed-limit change “will dramatically reduce the stopping distance when drivers don’t realize that people are ready to cross.”
Olson pointed out that an earlier effort to convince the County Commission to put a stoplight at Beach Way failed. County officials said the road did not have enough traffic to justify the light when they considered that request in late 2009.
“Obviously, the light would solve all the issues,” Olson said. With no chance of that action, he added, the best hope is the lower speed limit.
Duque said his staff will study traffic on the section where the Condo Association wants the speed limit lowered. Part of that effort will involve determining the speed of 85% of the vehicles, an industry standard for such studies, he said. The results will go to the Traffic Advisory Council for its consideration. If the TAC members agree on the need for a lower speed limit, Duque will forward that recommendation to the County Commission.
Olson is optimistic the change will come, he said, pointing out that the Condo Association prevailed after about two-and-a-half years in its campaign to get the state to lower the speed limit from 40 mph to 35 mph on the section of Midnight Pass Road from the Stickney Point Bridge to the stoplight across from Fire Station No. 13.
Two other issues on Beach Road the Condo Association brought to county officials’ attention have been resolved.
In his May 16 letter to Patterson, Jodia also had asked for expanded and improved ground lighting at that Beach Road crosswalk and for the trimming of low branches on four palm trees just north of the pedestrian crossing sign, because those fronds were blocking the view of southbound drivers.
Duque said one bulb was burned out in the walkway lighting system when a county worker checked it.
Olson was present when the worker was kneeling in the road to examine the lights, he said. A car flew between the man and four girls in bikinis trying to cross the road, narrowly missing all of them. Olson said he told the county worker, “You see what we mean?”
Staff is looking at how the walkway can be improved, Duque said. However, because of talk that the new beach design may involve brick paver walkways, like those in the Village, Duque said staff needs to await the final word on the beach plan before proceeding with any recommendations about the walkway.
As for the palm branches, Duque said those already have been trimmed.