The timetable has not been established yet, but the Florida Department of Transportation is moving ahead on plans to construct four crosswalks on Midnight Pass Road, in response to a pedestrian-safety survey it sent out Dec. 23. During a Dec. 6 public meeting held at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church on Midnight Pass Road, Brian Bollas, planning and environmental manager for Parsons Brinckerhoff and FDOT consultant, said the four locations most appropriate for the crosswalks were the Palm Bay Club, Peppertree Bay, Excelsior and Siesta Royale condominium complexes.
FDOT spokeswoman Cindy Clemmons said additional crosswalk locations were possible, if new pedestrian counts indicated the need for them.
Lauren Hatchell, a second FDOT spokeswoman, said Feb. 10 that the design for the first crosswalks would have to be finalized before the project could be advertised for bids. Although she said she was uncertain when the construction would start.
“Obviously, we don’t want to do this during peak season,” she said.
Hatchell added that the work probably could be done at night. FDOT’s goal, she said, would be to plan the project to cause the least disruption possible to Key traffic.
FDOT announced late Feb. 8 that 47% of the 950 people who responded to its survey chose one of two crosswalk options as their preferred means of improving pedestrian safety on Midnight Pass Road. The survey went to the residents of the 34 condominium complexes along the affected portion of that road.
Of the people voting, 267 chose Option 6, which includes the four crosswalks without a collapsible “paddle” sign in the center, which is used in some areas to alert motorists to be on the lookout for pedestrians. The crosswalks will have flashing beacons that can be activated by people preparing to cross the road. Thirteen of the respondents voting for that option also requested a reduced speed limit in the area.
Another 178 respondents chose Option 5, which included the paddle signs.
And although another traffic study was under way last week on the affected portion of the Key, Clemmons said that FDOT has no plans at this point to lower the speed limit on that part of the road.
Nonetheless, the Siesta Key Condominium Council is continuing to press for a speed-limit reduction from 35 mph to 30 mph on Midnight Pass Road from the Stickney Point Road intersection to the Beach Road intersection, Vice President Walt Olson told the Pelican Press.
“My frustration is that those guys (at FDOT) will not consider the reality of the situation,” in regard to the speed limit, Olson said. “You’re not out in the boondocks, with an exit every mile,” Olson said. “It’s a neighborhood,” he added of the area, which has 34 condominium complexes with an estimated seasonal population of 70,000 people.
However, Olson said, FDOT representatives had told him they could not take that into consideration.
Thomas Fastiggi, property manager for the Peppertree Bay Association, emailed the Sarasota County commissioners Feb. 9 to press for the lowered speed limit, as well, though he preferred 25 mph.
Fastiggi wrote: “A speed-limit reduction will have an immediate and positive impact on the safety of our Siesta Key residents and guests and is easily implemented by change of existing signage, with minimal cost to the state.”
Commissioner Nora Patterson responded to Fastiggi, noting that FDOT twice had turned down County Commission requests for a lower speed limit on the one-mile stretch of Midnight Pass Road, though Patterson pointed out that the commission had asked for 30 mph, not 25 mph.
“Let’s give this a rest while (FDOT does) further research,” Patterson added.
In an interview Feb. 9, she said, “The county’s been trying for a long time to get crosswalks (on that part of the road). I think (the project) should work out.”
Nonetheless, the Condominium Council has sent a letter to the County Commission, reaffirming its opposition to the plan for the crosswalks, because of their planned locations away from the driveways of the four designated condominium complexes. “This placement will create a condition that will require pedestrians to walk 60 to 120 feet away from the normal pedestrian flow, which will greatly reduce usage (of the crosswalks),” the letter says.
Therefore, the council is asking the commission to press its case to FDOT that the crosswalks should not be built as planned and that the speed-limit reduction remains a priority.
The survey results showed the single option that had garnered the most support — 277 votes — was No. 4, which called for no action. Of the people choosing that option, according to FDOT, 18 included a comment requesting a reduced speed limit. Another17 people also added comments, for example, that the proposed pedestrian islands were unattractive, would create congestion, would increase attempts to access the beach from private property and would block use of the center turn lane for drivers trying to pull into traffic.
Option 1, which was the original proposal issued in June, called for 10 pedestrian islands along Midnight Pass Road. It received 66 votes. Option 2, which called for four pedestrian islands at the areas where pedestrian and bicyclist crossing counts were the highest, garnered 124 votes.
Option 3, which called for the installation of overhead warning signs facing northbound and southbound traffic at either end of the affected part of the road, received 38 votes.
Altogether, Clemmons said in a press release, 673 of the respondents, or 71%, voted for safety improvements.
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