Concerned about confused motorists attempting to navigate busy city streets during upcoming holiday weekends, a downtown art gallery owner conjured up a creative solution.
City of Sarasota staff welcomed her proposal with open arms early this week.
State of the Arts Gallery co-owner Tre Michel sent an email to the city commissioners Feb. 2, alerting them that Presidents Day weekend (Feb.18-20) and the weekend before Easter and the start of the Sarasota County Public Schools’ spring break (March 24-25) both would feature a number of downtown events. Yet, construction of two roundabouts downtown already has been causing traffic upheavals, because of road-segment closures.
“Ringling Boulevard is closed as a thoroughfare and Main Street is closed for street vendors (for this weekend’s art fair), which will leave only Fruitville Road for access to downtown,” Michel wrote. Yet, traffic trying to turn from Fruitville would be blocked as well, at the intersections of Central and Lemon avenues, Michel added.
To help motorists avoid having to make several U-turns — or, worse, leave downtown altogether out of frustration — Michel proposed the city erect temporary signs showing motorists where to park and how to navigate more easily around downtown.
During a meeting with city staff members, Michel found they not only liked her idea, but they also were willing to put up permanent public parking signs and use electronic message boards on the weekends, to direct motorists to parking lots and the Palm Avenue parking garage.
Going a step further, the city has produced a map for residents and visitors, to help them get around town during events that will coincide with street closures for the Sarasota Farmers Market.
“We ended up with a great signage plan to direct people to the parking garages, other parking lots and to the Green Hoppers to shuttle people back and forth,” Michel said.
The Green Hopper is a free, electric-vehicle taxi service that operates downtown.
The message boards and signs will explain the following:
• Motorists coming from the south on U.S. 41 should turn right on Orange Avenue and park either in the Burns Square parking lot, the State Street parking lot or a parking lot on Second Street.
• At the Second Street parking lot, motorists who still have not found parking spaces will be directed to the Palm Avenue parking garage, via Cocoanut Avenue.
• Motorists coming from the area of Longboat Key/St. Armands Key/Lido Key will see signs advising them to drive straight ahead on Gulfstream Avenue to Cocoanut Avenue, then to Palm Avenue, for access to the city parking garage.
“What this does is keeps a lot of people from making U-turns, getting frustrated and leaving,” said Michel, who also worked on the project with Downtown Sarasota Alliance Chair John Harshman and Farmers Market representative Phil Pagano.
Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown agreed with the clarity of Michel’s concept.
“It’s a great idea that staff worked hard to implement in time for this weekend,” Brown said.
Michel was pleased, she said, by how fast city staff moved to develop concrete responses to her suggestion.
“(City officials) were so accommodating,” Michel said. “I was surprised what fast and personal service we received.”
And instead of voicing frustration herself over the downtown traffic jumble, Michel said the city should be proud of the situation that led her to suggest the signage.
“In this economy, what a great problem to have, with trying to cater to people who are flocking to downtown for more than one event,” Michel said. “This is all about not having people be afraid to come downtown.”