Now that we have experienced a taste of what it’s like to have continuous traffic up and down Gulf of Mexico Drive, let’s consider for a moment what things might look like if the proposed Longboat Key Club expansion is approved. Based on my understanding, the club-sponsored traffic study submitted to the town predicts that the new development, after build out, will result in 2,479 additional daily trips.
This figure was arrived at by starting with traffic observations completed in October 2007. The results were then adjusted using an FDOT formula to arrive at an estimated seasonal-peak total. Because the actual study was not done at peak time, it is unlikely if it accurately reflects all the unique things that delay traffic on and off this particular Key during our busy peak season (see editor’s note).
Traffic studies use a Level of Service (LOS) designation to rate traffic conditions. An “A” rating is very good; an “E” rating is the minimum acceptable level. The present LOS rating between Longboat Club Road and St Armands in peak season is a “D.” It is predicted to fall to an “E” in five years. The current traffic study indicates that the rating will remain at an “E” even with additional trips predicted from the development, but the study may not have considered some important inputs.
Traffic studies depend upon the correctness and completeness of the information given to the engineer, because that determines what the study does and does not consider. Let’s look at some of the things that probably were not considered. For instance, I understand that the study did not consider special club events such as previous Key club-sponsored events such as Film Festival, real estate auctions, Winefest, etc. All of these events produced traffic delays on Gulf of Mexico Drive.
The reason for this is that the sudden addition of cars from the club to the in season near bumper-to-bumper situation on Gulf of Mexico Drive means that traffic slows to a crawl, then only a car or two from the club can get through the light before it changes to red again. Having personally experienced this, I can tell you that this process adds 15 to 30 minutes to the trip downtown, and I live on the south end of the Key.
There will be many more special events because, according to the Key Club General Manager Michael Welly, the new hotel, with its 62,800-square-foot meetings complex, which includes a 10,300-square-foot ballroom, 8,300-square-foot kitchen and 12,000-square-foot pre-function space, plus a 394-space parking garage, are all specifically designed to attract more meetings and events.
We also understand that the traffic study did not consider the effect of substantial delays that we all know are caused by the New Pass Bridge openings. These and the delays caused by special events are sizable things that cannot be overlooked.
There is also no sign that the study has considered the numerous traffic-delaying events that are always held in season on St. Armands, or the increased traffic effect of the new parking garage being planned there, or, for that matter, the possible new traffic lights on St. Armands Circle to allow pedestrians to cross more easily.
While construction is temporarily delayed due to economic conditions, as the economy recovers, we can expect that two, big hotel-and-shopping complexes and a large condominium project will probably be built on or near U.S. 41 just north of the Ritz-Carlton. All of these projects will produce more traffic congestion that will affect us either directly or indirectly. There is also serious talk of improving the Sarasota downtown pedestrian access to the bay by possibly lowering U.S. 41 traffic to 30 mph. Of course, all of this may or may not happen, but the trend in Florida is for continuous development, and as we learned in the movie, if you build it, they will come!
Even in our busy peak season when we consider traffic unacceptable, my friends from the east coast of Florida all marvel at how well we are able to get around locally, as compared to the continuous and lengthy traffic tie-ups they face in the corridor from Miami to Palm Beach. Traffic studies were undoubtedly used to justify all that east coast development, yet it ultimately led to gridlock much of the year. Did this happen because the decision makers failed to look at other things beyond the specific project being considered?
Are we doing the same thing considering the proposed Key Club expansion?
Please understand that, as a club member, I am in favor of having the club update and improve its existing facilities, but not in the extensive way it is proposing. Proceeding with a plan of this scope, which also changes the club to a meetings-oriented facility, will, in my best judgment, negatively affect everyone who lives on this key.
John Vorel is president of Sanctuary III on Longboat Key.
Editor’s note: The Key Club has previously stated that the 2,479 additional car trips will be spread out over a 24-hour period, and that is the projected number for 2014, for all existing and proposed new uses at the club. The Key Club says the proposed plan will produce 79 trips heading to St. Armands Circle and 65 vehicles heading north, per hour.