The exception does not or should not make the rule. Speed limits on Siesta Key, we must trust, became set after careful thought of the Florida Department of Transportation staff.
Time of day, time of year, frequency of vehicles, size of population, etc., logically determine the setting of a speed limit.
And although we were shocked at the horrible death of Donna Chen in an incident involving an allegedly drunken driver, we cannot allow this exception to create an adjustment (lowering) of the Siesta Key speed limits.
Several of our residents have advocated lowering the speed limit. Unless a person is living on Siesta Key year-round, not just seasonally, that person does not know what occurs on our roads year-round. As such, that person’s opinion is skewed and logically ruled irrelevant. (This pertains to other matters affecting the Key, for example, alcoholic beverage consumption, noise and nightlife. It’s the difference between treating symptom and cause.)
For four or so months in season, the roads get crowded. Most drivers can’t do the speed limit anyway — a fact to which seasonal people relate.
A drunk hitting and killing someone could occur at any time of the year and within any speed limit. Lowering the speed limit could not prevent such a blatant disregard of human life and a homicidal act.
Many people living on or visiting Siesta Key year-round have work-related tasks. They have to get to their jobs, conduct business on the Key and see to daily errands. In many cases, time becomes significant and valuable. Lowering the speed limit would hamper these people in their daily quests.
The volume of cars in season serves to reduce the speed anyway. The age skew of the people living on and visiting the Key also tends to lower the speed one drives. How many times have you driven on Midnight Pass behind someone doing 20 or 25 mph?
Lowering the speed limit could result in an increase in accidents. Ultra-slow speed creates angst, annoyance and the impulsive thought to just pass a driver. Such an impetuous act could cause an accident, in spite of a lower speed limit.
Speed is relative, often related to the type and model of the car. Riding in a heavy car or big sport utility vehicle, even at the 35 mph speed limit, seems like slow going. In a smaller car, the 35 mph speed limit is quite adequate. Above 35 mph, the smaller car offers the sensation of going faster.
Let’s not change the speed limit over one horrible accident and tragic death. Let’s consider all of our residents, full-timers, seasonal friends and mainland visitors — the “Bridge Crowd.”
The current speed limits make sense. Drive all the roads: Higel, Midnight Pass, Ocean Boulevard, Beach Road and local streets. Consider your speed in relation to the density of people and structures. I’m sure you’ll see that our speed limits work just fine.
And now to that other traffic issue, the pedestrian islands under consideration for Midnight Pass in the Key’s “condo central” section. Either a person’s legs can carry the person across the road, no matter a 25, 30 or 35 mph speed limit, or they can’t. Putting islands in the center of the road will not change someone’s walking speed or visual acuity.
Let’s not kid ourselves. The pedestrian islands have nothing to do with vehicle speed. However, they will help those people carrying beach items: bags, beverage coolers, chairs, umbrellas, etc. — and certainly the islands will aid those with baby carriages.
So, for that, the islands could become a blessing.
Last, to remind drivers of the speed limit, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office randomly can park unused vehicles at certain key locations. Placing a mannequin torso dressed in a deputy’s shirt and hat, will add to the speed warning. Drivers always slow down when they see a police or sheriff’s car.
Jeffrey Weisman practices fine arts photography and serves on the board of directors of Art Center Sarasota.