The Sarasota County Commission last week sent the Florida Department of Transportation a letter supporting the latest option for pedestrian safety on a 1-mile section of Midnight Pass Road, but with modifications.
The letter stated that option, presented Dec. 6 during an FDOT public meeting at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church on the Key, was for four crosswalks with painted islands in the center turn lane of Midnight Pass Road between the Beach Road and Stickney Point Road intersections.
However, the letter asked FDOT not to use the suggested “paddle signs” its staff had proposed, to warn drivers to watch out for pedestrians in the crosswalks. Without those signs, the letter states, “We believe (this) would be an acceptable solution … keeping the middle lane free from obstructions.”
The County Commission also asked FDOT to consider lowering the speed limit on that section of Midnight Pass Road from 35 mph to 30 mph.
If FDOT would not put in the painted crosswalks without the paddle signs, the letter concludes, “We would support … the option of doing nothing.”
During a straw poll conducted during the Dec. 6 FDOT meeting, 51% of about 120 Key residents attending the meeting said they preferred FDOT take no action to improve pedestrian safety on the affected portion of Midnight Pass Road, in lieu of FDOT’s original proposal for 10 pedestrian islands.
However, in response to public request, FDOT staff said a pedestrian crossing count it had undertaken after Thanksgiving indicated sufficient demand for the department to place the four painted crosswalks at the Palm Bay Club, Peppertree Bay, Excelsior and Siesta Royale condominium complexes, if the public preferred that option. During the straw poll, 39% of the participants voted in favor of it.
The Pelican Press reported Dec. 8 that FDOT staff had indicated another pedestrian count would be taken in March, once season is fully under way on the Key. However, Brian Bollas, planning and environmental manager for Parsons Brinckerhoff, an FDOT consultant, said Dec. 15 that although he might have referred during the Dec. 6 meeting to a public request for that count, no such count is planned.
The crosswalk option, without the paddle signs but with the lowered speed limit, is the option the Siesta Key Condominium Association also prefers.
Walt Olson, vice president of the association, said his group remains opposed to the new option as long as the paddle signs are part of it. He said many of the people attending the Dec. 6 meeting did not understand that option fully, especially in regard to the signs. He is working to make sure residents of the condominiums along the affected part of Midnight Pass Road understand clearly what FDOT has proposed.
Olson said the condo association opposes the paddle signs because, although emergency vehicles could knock them down, regular traffic lawfully could not do so for any reason. Additionally, the signs would impede the ability of drivers pulling out of condo complexes to use the center lane for making left-hand turns into traffic.
Finally, Olson said, the association members feel signs that would light up at each end of the crosswalks, after a push of a button by a pedestrian, would be adequate to make drivers aware of the pedestrians.
FDOT will be sending another survey to all the residents of the 34 condo complexes along the 1-mile section of the road. Bollas said that mailing should go out Dec. 23, with the residents allowed two weeks to complete the survey and return their cards.
An earlier postcard survey offered three options along with the suggestion FDOT do nothing. The first option was for the 10 pedestrian islands.
The second was to install four pedestrian islands along the road where FDOT counts showed the highest number of pedestrian crossings, and the third was to install overhead warning signs facing northbound traffic at the Stickney Point Road intersection and southbound traffic at the Beach Road intersection.
Radar sign installation under way
The installation of new radar signs began in Sarasota County last week, said Chris Hauber, technical specialist in the county’s Mobility/Traffic Engineering Office.
Those signs, which will be similar to one installed on Orange Avenue near the U.S. 41 intersection, should be appearing shortly on Siesta Key, Hauber said. The contractor had hoped to get them in Dec. 16; however, Hauber reported Monday that the contractor had run into some unforeseen problems.
“I’ve been told they may be installed this week,” Hauber added, but he cautioned the contractor may not be able to get all six in place before a planned holiday break for employees.
Hauber had been alerted Dec. 15 about the first signs going in, he said, because “I’ve got to follow along behind them and program (the signs).”
County staff was working with the Florida Department of Transportation on the site for one of the signs on the Key, he said, because it would go in FDOT right of way.
The solar-powered signs will collect data about speed trends. Hauber previously said information could be shared with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office if deputies wanted to use it to determine how to utilize patrol officers more effectively.