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Siesta Key Thursday, May 21, 2020 2 weeks ago

County officials consider variety of traffic improvements on the key

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Among proposed traffic improvements on Siesta Key are traffic calming measures, a bike share program and a water taxi.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

A slew of new traffic changes could be coming to Siesta Key as county officials consider several options from a study done on the barrier island.

The first phase of the study, led by Tampa firm ADEAS-Q, highlighted such areas as congestion, pedestrian safety and parking.

Spencer Anderson, the county’s director of Public Works, told commissioners May 5 that the county should begin planning now because it will assume authority over all Siesta roads later this year, after a road swap with the Florida Department of Transportation is complete. 

“It’s a constrained roadway network,” Anderson said. “It’s going to take some creative thinking.”

Jason Collins, a consultant with ADEAS-Q, presented the proposed changes to commissioners after meeting with island stakeholders. Among the 18 proposed actions were traffic-calming measures on Midnight Pass Road, crosswalk improvements along Ocean Boulevard and the development of a bike-sharing plan.

“This a multiphase approach that’s needed to address a variety of different challenges,” Collins said. “It is not a one-size-fits-all approach.”

Staff will now work to determine feasibility and costs. Among those projects likely first in line: bicycle and pedestrian safety fixes and traffic-calming measures.

For example, Collins said the county could place more traffic signs throughout the island to alert drivers of speed-limit changes. Documents turned into the commission show that each sign would cost about $5,000.

Commissioners discussed the possibility of using funds generated by a potential paid beach parking program to fund the Siesta Key Breeze Trolley.

Collins also proposed creating protected pathways for bicyclists and more flashing-beacon pedestrian crossings.

Additionally, he highlighted the lack of sidewalks on the east side of South Midnight Pass Road as a problem.

Commissioner Nancy Detert said she would support the installation of sidewalks on Midnight Pass between Stickney Point Road and Turtle Beach, stating the county should “have had sidewalks a long time ago.”

One of the more controversial proposals, however, was the renewal of a discussion about installing a paid parking program at the island’s public beaches.

Collins recommended that if the county chooses to begin a paid parking program, it should be implemented at both Siesta Beach and Turtle Beach.

Commissioners discussed  using a portion of the proceeds generated from a parking program to fund transportation projects on the Key, such as the Siesta Key Breeze Trolley, which is free to riders. State grant funds have supported the trolley since its launch in 2017.

With new funds, Collins said the commission could focus on improving the system by ensuring a trolley is at a pickup point every 10 minutes. Shelters at more stops also would add to riders’ experience.

Commissioner Alan Maio, who represents a portion of the island, said that if the county were to begin a paid parking program, many residents would prefer a system that exempted them.

However, Chair Michael Moran expressed concerns that a majority of the people using the lot would be residents, so the program would not generate a healthy revenue.

Collins said there is potential for the county to provide information about open parking spaces in a phone app, which could help ease traffic during season.

“I think that’d be a great service,” Commissioner Christian Ziegler said. “It would eliminate driving around for 30 minutes trying to find a parking space.”

Commissioners discussed the possibility of a water taxi to get people to and from Siesta Key. Photo courtesy

To decrease congestion and crashes, Collins suggested roundabouts at the intersections of Higel Avenue/Midnight Pass Road and Higel Avenue/Ocean Boulevard.

Additionally, Anderson said the county is in discussions with FDOT to reconsider a roundabout at Beach Road and Midnight Pass Road. Discussions on a roundabout at that intersection first began about five years ago. 

In 2022, FDOT plans to resurface Midnight Pass Road from Stickney Point to the intersection of Shadow Lawn Way. As a part of this, Anderson said, the county is negotiating the roundabout with FDOT.

However, he noted the idea of a roundabout has many island residents concerned about pedestrian safety. In the past, members of Siesta Key Association and the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce have expressed concerns about a potential roundabout at that intersection, stating it would be too dangerous for pedestrians.

“The biggest concern has been pedestrian safety,” Anderson said. “But we want to make sure we look at all options before we eliminate anything in its entirety.”

He said that new engineering designs that enhance pedestrian safety have been implemented elsewhere and could be installed on the Key as well.

Finally, as part of a long-term improvement, Collins discussed the potential of a water taxi that could operate from Phillippi Estate Park. He said staff is still considering where the taxi could dock on the key.

Commissioners discussed the possibility of an air gondola to get people to and from Siesta Key. Photo courtesy

He also stated the county could implement an air gondola, similar to those at Disney World.

Commissioners showed interest in the water taxi but expressed concerns that costs associated with a gondola would be too high.  

Sarasota County Transportation Planning Division staff is now seeking funding for phase two of the transportation study, which would give more detailed comparisons of feasibility and funding options for the proposed projects.

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