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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED DEC. 8, 2011
A straw poll conducted Dec. 6 by representatives of the Florida Department of Transportation showed 51% of the about 120 island residents attending a public meeting preferred the state do nothing instead of installing new pedestrian safety measures along a 1-mile stretch of Midnight Pass Road.
During the vote, conducted with electronic devices distributed by FDOT personnel, 39% favored a new option FDOT unveiled during the three-hour meeting at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church. That option calls for four crosswalks with flexible, “paddle” signs warning motorists that pedestrians would be crossing the street. Emergency responders would be able to drive over the signs, FDOT staff said, although it is against the law for regular vehicles to do so.
Those crosswalks, which would include flashing lights activated by pedestrians as they prepared to cross the street, would be placed at the Palm Bay Club, Peppertree Bay, Excelsior and Siesta Royale condominium complexes. Brian Bollas, planning and environmental manager for Parsons Brinckerhoff, an FDOT consulting firm, said those locations had been chosen on the basis of a pedestrian crossing count FDOT conducted after Thanksgiving.
The pedestrian-crossing numbers could be revised following another survey in March 2012, Bollas said. If the count indicated it was advisable, a fifth crosswalk could be added to that option.
Peter van Roekens, vice president of the Siesta Key Association, said he had contacted FDOT staff Monday to request an option with crosswalks. The SKA earlier had sent a letter to FDOT detailing its board’s vote in favor of crosswalks and the lowering of the speed limit from 35 mph to 30 mph on the affected portion of Midnight Pass Road. Otherwise, the SKA members had agreed, they preferred FDOT took no action.
When he addressed the FDOT representatives and audience Tuesday, Van Roekens noted that position. Although he was pleased to see a fifth option, he said, “I might do without the sign in the middle (of the crosswalk).”
The Siesta Key Condominium Association also supported an option with crosswalks and the lower speed limit. SKCA Vice President Walt Olson reiterated that point during his remarks. Olson also said he had received letters of support from 32 of the 34 condominium complexes along the affected portion of Midnight Pass Road.
Olson said he also did not like the idea of the paddle signs in the crosswalks, adding that they could create problems.
“We need the center lane (of Midnight Pass Road) for vehicular traffic,” he said. Especially during season, residents driving out of the condo complexes use that center lane to be able to make left-hand turns, he said.
Bollas told the audience Tuesday that because the fifth option was new, all residents in the 34 condominium complexes would receive a second round of postcards asking them to indicate their preference among the proposals for improved pedestrian safety.
An earlier postcard mailing indicated three options along with the choice of FDOT doing nothing. The first option is to install 10 pedestrian islands along Midnight Pass Road, between the Beach Road and Stickney Point Road intersections. The second is to install four pedestrian islands at locations along the road where FDOT counts show the greatest number of pedestrian crossings. The third option calls for the installation of overhead signs facing northbound traffic at the Stickney Point Road intersection and southbound traffic at the Beach Road intersection, warning drivers to watch for pedestrians.
During the straw poll, the option for the four pedestrian islands garnered 1% of positive responses, while the option for the overhead signs won approval from 7% of the audience. Only 2% of the audience members favored the proposal for the 10 pedestrian islands.
Bollas cautioned the audience members to keep in mind that the straw poll was not an official response. Because of the decision to mail out new postcards, he said, it probably would be late January before FDOT could tally all the responses from condo residents.
L.K. Nandam, district traffic operations engineer for FDOT, explained that the proposal for the 10 pedestrian islands had been generated in 2006, after a pedestrian was killed on Midnight Pass Road. However, when FDOT came up with the proposal, he said, funding was not available for it. When that money became available in June, Nandam added, FDOT once again began pursuit of the project.
“The department does not want to put in a project that is not going to be supported by the community,” he said.