Siesta Key residents will have a chance Tuesday, Aug. 20, to get up to speed on proposals to open more of the island’s roads to a controversial type of vehicle.
County officials will run the public forum to discuss a proposed reduction in the speed limit on a segment of Midnight Pass Road. Also up for debate is an existing proposal to allow low-speed vehicles (LSVs) on the half-mile stretch of Midnight Pass Road between Sanderling Road and Vista Hermosa Circle, as well as to gauge public opinion on opening other Siesta Key roads to the speed-governed buggies.
The meeting will pit residents who own low-speed vehicles and want greater access to the Key against county officials and residents with concerns about safety and traffic flow.
According to Florida statutes, a low-speed vehicle is any four-wheeled vehicle, including neighborhood electric vehicles, that has a top speed greater than 20 mph but lower than 25 mph.
Operators are required to have a valid driver’s license and wear a seat belt. Use of low-speed vehicles is allowed on all state and county roads with speed limits less than 35 mph, unless prohibited by a superseding ordinance. The authority to ban LSVs from county roads rests with the County Commission.
The rules for golf carts are different, requiring special approval from the road’s governing body. The minimum age to drive a golf cart is 14, and no seat belts are required. Unlike LSVs, golf carts are not permitted for nighttime use.
Paula Wiggins, Sarasota County public works transportation manager, will lead Tuesday’s forum. Wiggins said county commissioners have misgivings about opening portions of Midnight Pass to low-speed vehicles, but they are receptive to other locations.
“The characteristics of Midnight Pass make it a concern,” Wiggins said. “The commissioners are, however, open to looking at the use of LSVs on other roads with fewer safety issues.”
Wiggins said the commission is still in favor of lowering the speed limit on Midnight Pass Road but want to ban LSVs from the two-lane road — the only evacuation route from the southern portion of Siesta Key.
Low-speed vehicles are already permitted on state-owned roads on the Key with speed limits 35 mph
and below, Wiggins said.
According to county officials, Siesta residents who own low-speed vehicles and want greater access to the island, not LSV rental companies looking out for their bottom line, primarily back the measures to be discussed during the Aug. 20 forum.
“I think there will be a lot of frustration on the Key,” said Mike Lewis, owner of Siesta Sports Rentals in response to the idea of LSVs on Midnight Pass and other Siesta roads. “The speed limit on the Key would basically be reduced to 20 mph; it would be a real hassle.”
The low-speed vehicle debate traces back to a Dec. 10 Sarasota County Traffic Advisory Council recommendation to lower the speed limit from 40 mph to 25 mph on a half-mile stretch of Midnight Pass Road between Sanderling Road and Vista Hermosa Circle. Bill and Sarah Cooper, residents of the Sanderling Club, originally petitioned for the change so they could use their golf cart on the affected segment of the road, but they eventually cited traffic safety at the Dec. 10 TAC meeting as justification for the move to lower the speed limit. The Coopers could not be reached for comment.
Wiggins said that area law enforcement has not voiced any significant concerns about low-speed vehicles and favor lowering the speed limit on Midnight Pass Road.
County Commissioner Nora Patterson originally supported the Dec. 10 TAC recommendation to lower the speed limit on Midnight Pass Road but did an about-face when she realized the move would allow LSVs on the two-lane road many Siesta residents use for their daily commute to work.
“My big concern, and my only concern,” Patterson said, “is that low-speed vehicles can only go 25 mph, and that is going to seem awfully slow to most of the folks who aren’t tourists and actually have to go to work. A lot of people will be passing on the narrow, two-lane road, and that will be problematic.”
The issue of low-speed vehicles was raised at the Siesta Key Association’s Aug. 1 meeting. Safety topped the board’s concerns. Siesta residents reported dangerous encounters with low-speed vehicles, particularly at night.
“We all want safe roads, there’s no debate about that,” SKA board member Catherine Luckner said. “It could be good to lower the speed limit, but it’s scary to think about tourists coming here and not knowing where and when it’s safe to drive these things.”
“I am in agreement that I do not want to see the speed limit lowered to see these vehicles given access,” SKA board member Michael Shay said. “It’s a safety issue.”
The Aug. 20 meeting will be an important step to measure community opinion on the low-speed vehicle debate, Wiggins said. Residents are encouraged to fill out online surveys, available on the Sarasota County website, www.scgov.net/PublicWorks/Pages/TransportationPlanning.aspx, that will use county officials to draft policy. Patterson also encouraged Siesta residents to learn more about the different proposals to be discussed and to voice their opinions.
“I think people who live on the Key and care about the quality of their roads should go,” Patterson said. “People who are most affected by an issue are usually the last to know.”
Contact Nolan Peterson at [email protected]
IF YOU GO
The Midnight Pass Road Speed Reduction Public Meeting — 5 to 7 p.m. Aug. 20, at the Siesta Key Chapel, 4615 Gleason Ave.
Up for discussion:
• A proposed speed limit reduction on a half-mile stretch of Midnight Pass Road between Sanderling Road and Vista Hermosa Circle.
• Allowing low-speed vehicles to operate on the portion of Midnight Pass Road with the reduced speed limit.
• Gauge public opinion on opening other roads on Siesta Key to low-speed vehicles.
WHAT IS A LOW-SPEED VEHICLE?
• According to Florida statute, a low-speed vehicle (LSV) is any four-wheeled vehicle that can go at least 20 mph, but no more than 25 mph.
• LSVs can be operated on any road with a posted speed limit 35 mph or lower.
• Operators must have a valid driver’s license.
• LSVs must be equipped with headlamps, stop lamps, turn-signal lamps, tail lamps, reflex reflectors, parking brakes, rearview mirrors, windshields, seat belts and vehicle identification numbers.
• LSVs must be registered and insured.