My fellow My View columnist, Jeffrey Weisman, provided some excellent solutions to the serious parking problem that confronts Siesta Key Village and the public beach every season. As readers of the column know, I am in total agreement with Weisman about the importance of not spoiling the Siesta Key brand as we tackle these issues. We live in a special place that needs to be protected as the number of tourists and mainland visitors continues to rise.
Utilizing church parking lots and vacant property is worth pursuing. The Siesta Key Village Association should be looking at ways to increase the number of parking spaces within or near the Village. I would also propose that they focus on ways to reserve parking for patrons of the shops and restaurants. Some easy-to-use parking meters might just do the trick.
These are good but only short-term solutions to what will be a long-term problem. The Sarasota population will continue to increase, and Siesta Key will hopefully remain a desirable destination for mainland beachgoers and vacationers. There will never be enough parking, especially in the winter months.
A long-term solution to the parking problem must address the obvious source of the problem — the growing number of automobiles coming to Siesta Key. It would also solve the other mounting irritation of life on the Key — traffic congestion. We must find ways to control the increasing number of vehicles on Siesta Key to protect its brand as a casual, relaxed and charming beach destination in the years to come.
Having to cross active drawbridges to get on Siesta Key significantly contributes to the traffic congestion and frustration of getting to the public beach or the wonderful shops and restaurants scattered throughout the island. The soon-to-be-built crosswalks on Midnight Pass Road will only make it worse.
I would propose that the Sarasota County commissioners consider privatizing a parking lot as a traffic-control solution that is used now for special events such as the sandsculpting competition. It would incorporate using existing but underutilized mainland parking lots or newly developed ones in conjunction with some clever modes of mass transportation in place of plain old city buses.
An obvious requirement for this to be a successful venture would be that the ride is fun and entertaining and not just a means of transportation. It could also be used as a marketing tool for Siesta Key and the various businesses on it. For example, creative advertising during the ride could be sold as a revenue generator for the new enterprise. I am confident that some talented, entrepreneurial minds in the private sector could come up with some imaginative ideas.
Another prerequisite to encourage people to park and ride would be to provide some economic incentives by charging for parking at the public beaches as well as installing parking meters for spaces in the Village. Privatization of the public parking lots might be the answer, as previously proposed in last week’s Pelican Press.
I would hope that Sarasota County and the Siesta Key Association would work with the entrepreneurs to look for ways to lessen the startup costs of such a business venture because of the benefits to the residents, business owners and vacationers on Siesta Key. Getting a venture like this off the ground and on a sustainable path would take some time. Old habits die hard for most American drivers.
Traffic congestion and limited parking options on Siesta Key are long-term problems that will only get worse over time. To protect the Siesta Key brand, we need to begin to look for long-term solutions.
John Gudritz is the co-owner of an investment management firm. He and his wife have been coming to Siesta Key since the 1970s and have been property owners and seasonal residents since 2008.
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- Last July I attended a Riverview High School Reunion in the Village. I grew up on Siesta Key, and left the area in the late '70s. The village, as I remember, never had a parking problem. There were only a few quaint shops and assorted sundries. The atmosphere was always laid back and welcoming. It was home. Now, it is an over-developed tourist trap. The lack of urban planning is so bad now, I would rather remember keep my memories and not return.
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