A common scene on St. Armands Circle: A driver stops his or her vehicle for pedestrians when approaching Circle crosswalks. The problem is, there are no pedestrians. But drivers frequently mistake the signs telling residents to stop for pedestrians for a regular stop sign. Then, that same driver rolls through the actual stop signs that are placed around the Circle.
The scenario was just one common cause of congestion on the Circle that Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) officials discussed with Longboat Key and Sarasota residents and officials Oct. 18, at a Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization work session on St. Armands traffic. It was the second work session held to address traffic problems on the Circle. The first was held in May, after St. Armands Circle Association Executive Director Diana Corrigan approached the MPO with her concerns.
Other observations included pedestrians who often jaywalk instead of using the crosswalks and that traffic becomes clogged by drivers waiting for parking spaces around the Circle. The parking problem is especially pronounced during season on the one-lane westbound side of John Ringling Boulevard, which has parallel parking on one side and angled parking on the other.
“It is a bottleneck,” said Longboat Key Mayor George Spoll.
Drivers who attempt to navigate the Circle are often confused by excess signage, attendees said. But, frequently, drivers bypass the Circle, using residential side streets instead.
“We’ve had 2,500 cars in one day,” said one North Washington Drive resident.
L.K. Nandam, district traffic operations engineer with FDOT, discussed St. Armands traffic problems with the more than 30 people in attendance and took the items that the group reached a consensus on as recommendations for addressing Circle issues.
The group agreed that stop signs should remain at entry ways to the Circle while pedestrian warnings should be changed to yield signs. Installation of the pedestrian yield signs has already begun, according to an FDOT spokeswoman.
Attendees recommended removing parallel parking from along the westbound side of John Ringling Boulevard so that drivers can use the paved area to pass drivers who are waiting for parking. Those parking spaces will be replaced with additional parking on Boulevard of the Presidents. But the group did not recommend removing parallel parking from along the eastern half of Circle Park, arguing that those spaces generate revenue.
Sarasota Mayor Kelly Kirschner said that retail consultants found that each on-street parking space on the Circle adds between $225,000 and $250,000 in retail revenue annually.
“When we’re talking about this being one of the largest anchors of sales tax in Sarasota-Manatee County, I don’t think we should go lightly about eliminating parking spaces,” he said.
Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected].