Sarasota County commissioners adopted a plan Tuesday to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety in Sarasota County, exposing an ongoing debate about the need for a county bike/pedestrian coordinator, which safety advocates have been pushing for since 2006.
The Sarasota County Bicycle Pedestrian Trail Advisory Committee (BPTAC) submitted its Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan for adoption at a County Commission meeting in Venice. The safety plan, which identifies crash hot spots throughout the county and listed recommendations to improve safety, was approved by a 5-0 vote.
The plan was originally presented to the BCC May 21, but was kicked back to the BPTAC due to concerns about the accuracy and completeness of crash data. The revised plan presented to commissioners Tuesday included updated crash data gleaned from additional meetings with Sarasota, Venice, Longboat Key and North Port municipal staffs.
The adopted plan should be considered a decision-making guide and does not include binding budgetary or regulatory recommendations, Sarasota County transportation planner Beth Rozansky said.
The revised 46-page report compiled data from 1,756 bike and pedestrian crashes reported in Sarasota County from 2007 to 2013, and analyzed public input collected during two phases of research beginning in 2011. The report named Tamiami Trail and Bee Ridge Road as the most dangerous roads in the county for cyclists and pedestrians. And the intersections of Fruitville Road and Beneva Road, and Bee Ridge Road and Tamiami Trail were the most dangerous during the reporting period, BPTAC data showed.
The safety plan outlined ways to reduce the rate of accidents along the county’s 230 miles of bike trails and 2,300 miles of pedestrian walkways.
Key recommendations included more dedicated bike lanes on county roads, filling in missing sections of pedestrian walkways along major roads, more education programs for drivers and cyclists, expanding the Safe Routes to School program, law-enforcement training on bike and pedestrian laws and more opportunities for the BPTAC to provide input on roadway design plans.
Rozansky called the BPTAC plan a “living document” that would be continually revised with new crash data and updated with new recommendations about every three years.
Mike Lasche, head of the nonprofit group Bicycle/Pedestrian Advocates (BPA), called the plan “muted” and said it failed to follow through on several key issues, such as extending the Legacy Trail and pushing for a county bicycle/pedestrian coordinator.
Although the BPTAC plan did not clearly outline the need for a county bicycle/pedestrian coordinator, Rozansky said the value of such a position was acknowledged in the final recommendations.
“The plan recognizes the benefit of a staff person assigned to the position of bicycle-and-pedestrian safety coordinator,” Rozansky said.
Sarasota County had a dedicated bicycle/pedestrian coordinator from 1992 to 2005. After the position was cut in 2005, its responsibilities were divided among other personnel.
“Sarasota County needs a staff person who has solid experience or training in the science of bicycle/pedestrian transportation, not staff who have no stake in the success of initiatives in this area,” Lasche wrote in an Oct. 7 email to the BCC.
Previous county administrators cited budget concerns as the rationale for scrapping the coordinator billet. BPA has been pushing for the job’s restoration since 2006.
Sarasota County Commissioner Joe Barbetta said reviving the position should be a priority for the county.
“We talk about being a bicycle friendly county … but we’re one of the top counties in bicycle deaths,” Barbetta said. “With a billion-dollar budget, we should be able to find funds to hire a coordinator. If we can't find that funding, we’re doing something wrong.”
The BPTAC meets quarterly and comprises representatives of county municipalities and agencies.
The commission voted 5-0 to send letters to Longboat Key, North Port, Sarasota and Venice commissioners, inviting them to appoint a BPTAC representative.
“You can’t win if you don’t play,” BPTAC Chairman Bruce Dillon said.
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