The city continues to work on addressing transportation issues, but are Sarasota residents willing to use alternate methods of getting around town?
On Monday, the City Commission held a “transportation summit,” a chance to get feedback from city, county and state employees regarding the state of Sarasota’s increasingly congested road network.
It’s a sign of how serious the city is taking the issue, with officials determined to find a way to lighten the load on the streets. The city has held several transportation workshops leading up to Monday’s meeting, with a variety of solutions outlined.
According to presenters at these meetings, a long list of change is in order. The city needs more “complete streets” — streets that have a sidewalk and bike lane — allowing for residents to bike, drive, walk or use public transit depending on their desires. Public transit improvements need to be made, most notably by reducing headway times so riders know a bus will be coming soon.
Still, even if everything broke right — if all these changes were successfully implemented — would residents, largely dependent on their cars today, respond to the change?
As the city has prepared to overhaul its transportation planning over the past three years, staff has tried to keep engaged with the public. In addition to gathering feedback at community meetings, the city has conducted phone and online surveys in an attempt to ascertain which projects residents want to see move forward.
Already, the city has shifted to a multimodal fee for developers, which allows the city to spend money from new projects on bike, transit or pedestrian upgrades, not just roadway improvements. Based on the survey results, DavisShaw said, there was limited potential for additional roadway projects. There were certain spot improvements requested, but no overall demand for additional capacity.
“We didn’t get anybody who said they wanted to see complete road widening,” DavisShaw said. “It looked like the bulk of people’s interest was having other options.”
DavisShaw and other staff members — including the city’s Urban Design Studio — are confident residents will use other modes of transportation if they’re made available and convenient. Still, the city has no specific model it wants to follow, no example of a city that successfully weaned itself of its automobile reliance in such a manner.
“That would be something that would probably be good to know, to see what they did,” DavisShaw said.
The city isn’t expecting a sea change. The goal is to get people to change some of their behaviors some of the time. DavisShaw knows being outside is a chore in the summer months, but because fewer people are in town, driving during that time of the year isn’t a big issue, she said. If many residents are willing to walk or bike in the winter, however, the improvements on the roadway should be noticeable.
“If people want to drive in August, go for it,” DavisShaw said. “There’s no problem driving in August. When it's beautiful, that's when it'd be great to get people out of their car.”
DavisShaw acknowledged that, no matter what, getting people to change their behaviors would be a difficult challenge. She encouraged residents to persuade their family, neighbors and coworkers to get past that hurdle to help overcome the stigma associated with new activity.
“If people can encourage a coworker or someone to join them once in a while, that's the best way to get them started,” DavisShaw said. “Once they've done it a couple of times and realize it can actually be pleasant, then people will be more willing to do that on their own.”