Members of the Siesta Key Condominium Association hope to halt a Florida Department of Transportation proposal for 10 pedestrian islands on Midnight Pass Road between Beach Road and Stickney Point Road.
The Sarasota County Commission last week sent a letter to Don Skelton, interim FDOT District One secretary, to convey the association’s concerns and ask that the department proceed with plans for a public meeting from 5 to 7 p.m. Dec. 6, to discuss the islands and the possibility of alternatives to them.
Walt Olson, the condo association vice president, said he is trying to schedule meetings before Dec. 6 with the managers of all 33 condominium complexes along the affected, 1- mile stretch of Beach Road in hopes he can get letters from them supporting the association’s view.
“That certainly would be meaningful,” he said.
Michael P. Howe, executive director of the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization, noted in county correspondence in June that the project idea originated in 2007. The plan finally had become fully funded for the 2011-12 fiscal year, and FDOT was planning to let the bid in September, he wrote at the time.
Sarasota County Commission Chair Nora Patterson said the islands proposal evolved from a request by Siesta condo managers and presidents for pedestrian walkways along Midnight Pass Road and a lower speed limit to enable people to cross that busy stretch more readily — especially at the height of season.
FDOT officials were opposed to the requests in 2007, suggesting instead that pedestrian islands be placed at intervals along the middle turn lane. County fire officials opposed that idea, because they thought the islands would impede the department’s bigger trucks from making wide left turns, Patterson said. Furthermore, she said, condo owners weren’t excited about the islands because condo residents use the center turn lane to get in and out of their complexes when traffic is heavy on the road.
FDOT officials eventually modified the proposal to satisfy the fire department personnel, but neither the county nor the state could afford to undertake the project in 2007. Therefore, it was put on hold.
Although the new plan would make it possible for emergency response vehicles to pull partly onto the islands to get around traffic, Olson said, fire and rescue personnel would have to be careful of regular traffic pulling into the bike lanes, where pedestrians and cyclists may be. At any one time, he said, the affected section of Beach Road may have 100 to 150 vehicles.
“One hundred to 150 decisions are going to have to be made (by the drivers),” Olson said.
Former Siesta Key Association President Lourdes Ramirez raised a related concern during the public comments portion of the Sept. 14 County Commission meeting. A sign on each end of each island warning drivers not to run into the structures also would be an impediment to emergency vehicles, she said.
“If someone’s trying to put an IV in me, I don’t want them bouncing around down Midnight Pass Road,” Ramirez said.
Olson and Ramirez also hope to meet with the county fire chief to convey their concerns, Olson said.
Another point Olson made in a Sept. 9 letter to Patterson was that the islands would be located away from the 55 condominium complex exit points onto that 1-mile stretch of Beach Road. That means people would have to walk from 60 to about 110 feet farther than they do now, to use the islands to cross the road, he said, adding he did not expect residents would go the extra distance.
“Most people will continue using the most direct route, thus bypassing the islands and rendering them useless,” he wrote.
During her public comments at the commission meeting, Ramirez urged the board members to tell FDOT, “Thanks but no thanks.”