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Sarasota Thursday, Aug. 5, 2010 7 years ago

Alta Vista traffic circle to change

by: Robin Roy City Editor

After more than a year of public outcry, the city of Sarasota will begin altering a controversial traffic circle in the Alta Vista neighborhood.

The city installed the $98,000 circle in May 2009, at the intersection of Shade Avenue and Novus Street.

Because of constant complaints from residents about difficulty maneuvering from Novus to Shade, especially on left turns, and the fact that drivers on Shade rarely yield as they should to drivers entering the circle from Novus, city engineers told residents last week that they would change some of the circle’s features. And if that doesn’t work to the neighborhood’s satisfaction, the city would remove the circle altogether.

The traffic circle was installed, because the neighborhood association had requested something to slow the traffic on Shade Avenue and act as a gateway feature at the northern entrance to Alta Vista.
City staff suggested the circle, and the neighborhood approved. But during the construction process that attitude began to sour.

“This was not the plan. It was supposed to be bigger and have a statue on it,” said Candy Spaulding, neighborhood association president. “It was going to be a gateway into the neighborhood.”

A larger circle would have required the city to purchase right-of-way and cut a larger roadway into it. The funds to do that were not available.

As a gateway, residents wanted an attractive feature in the middle of the small circle, such as a statue or tree.

But after construction began, the city informed residents that a water line sat underneath the intersection, so digging to plant a tree was impossible and placing a statue or planter or anything else on the circle would be a hazard, because a car could crash into it.

City Engineer Alex DavisShaw said the circle has achieved its purpose of slowing traffic. A study showed that average speeds at that intersection declined from about 25 mph before the circle was installed to about 22 mph afterward.

Although the average speed has declined, drivers on Shade Avenue travel through the traffic circle without yielding to the drivers on Novus Street who enter the circle.

“As a traffic-calming measure, it’s actually working well,” DavisShaw said. “But your neighborhood approved this, so you should have the right to ask that it’s removed.”

One of the most frequent complaints is about the small concrete dividers, or “pork chops,” on Novus Street just before the traffic circle. They steer drivers to turn right, but because the circle is so small, those drivers find it difficult to make a left turn onto Shade without running over the pork chops.

DavisShaw suggested, and the neighborhood association approved, removing the pork chops and replacing them with road markings to delineate the traffic lanes.

The city will also put on the surface of Novus Street a stamped feature that cars will travel over, so drivers can feel when they’re approaching the traffic circle.

Breakaway reflectors will also be installed on the circle to serve as a visual reminder to drivers on Shade Avenue that they are entering the circle.

DavisShaw recommends waiting for about six months to see if those alterations make a difference. If they don’t, then the city would remove the circle.

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