The Sarasota County Traffic Advisory Council Monday approved unanimously a request from the Siesta Key Condominium Association for a reduction in speed from 35 to 30 mph on the portion of Beach Road from the Midnight Pass Road intersection to Ocean Boulevard.
The recommendation will go before the Sarasota County Commission, which will have final say on the matter. Efrain Duque, manager of the county’s Mobility/Traffic Engineering Office, said it typically takes his staff five to six weeks to get a TAC recommendation on the County Commission agenda. Staff will start the process immediately, Duque said.
Walt Olson, vice president of the condo association, has been working for months to convince county officials of the need for the lower speed limit. However, Chris Hauber, an engineer with the Mobility/Traffic Engineering Office, told the five TAC members during their regular meeting Monday that traffic studies showed the current speed limit is appropriate.
According to standard traffic management practices, the speed limit should be within 5 mph of the speed 85% of the traffic travels, Hauber said. Traffic counts taken this year, he said, showed that of the 4,250 eastbound vehicles along that stretch of Beach Road, the 85th percentile was traveling 36.4 mph; for the 5,846 westbound vehicles, the 85th percentile was moving at 34.9 mph.
A traffic study undertaken in May 2010, he said, showed slightly higher speeds: 40.1 mph for the eastbound traffic and 39.5 for vehicles heading west.
TAC member Joseph Glickman said a lot of the signage near the public beach is covered by vegetation, which should be trimmed if the county approves a change in the speed limit. He visited the site recently and found the stop sign at the beach intersection by the tennis courts to be covered.
“I didn’t even know it was there until I got out of the car and walked down there,” Glickman said.
Hauber replied county staff maintains a balance between the appearance of natural vegetation and trimming to make signs visible.
“It looked like they didn’t do too good a job,” Glickman said.
Then, TAC member Frank Domingo asked how the entrances and exits at Siesta Public Beach may change by the proposed improvements. Duque replied the last plan he had seen called for every beach intersection to have ingress and egress, whereas the current parking lot has just one entry point and several exits.
Domingo raised the prospect of the county putting a roundabout on Beach Road to achieve the effect of a lower speed limit.
“People get used to (roundabouts) really quickly,” he said.
“We can certainly suggest that to the design staff,” Hauber said. “That might be one of the possibilities.”
When the council asked for any public comments, Olson made a statement during which he referenced his May 16 letter requesting the lower speed limit. He and his wife had conducted an experiment at the crossing area from Beach Way to the beach during March and the first half of April, he said. They pressed the switch that illuminates the ground lights at the crossing and observed the actions of drivers. About one-third did not stop at the crosswalk with a person standing at the curb, ready to step onto Beach Road, Olson said. About half of the other cars stopped, “but did so on a near-panic basis,” he said. “It was a last-minute type of stop.”
Reducing the speed limit would provide more opportunity for vehicles to stop safely when pedestrians are trying to cross the road, he said.
Olson also said the county plans to install a radar sign near the Beach Way intersection that will flash vehicles’ speeds as they approach. That radar sign should be installed within the next two months, Duque said. His office is working with the procurement department on the matter.