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Siesta Key Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019 5 months ago

County officials look forward to community input on Siesta Key congestion

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The forum will take place in February to talk about ideas, possible solutions.
by: Samantha Chaney Staff Writer

Siesta Key is well-known for its hard-to-find parking and frequently slow traffic. 

As a result, county officials have scheduled a public workshop for Feb. 27, at which community members can ask questions, express thoughts and extend suggestions on the topic.

Through months of discussions, several possible solutions have been studied by county officials. 

Those ideas will form the backbone of the February discussions, but new ideas aren’t out of the question.

Siesta Key Association President Gene Kusekoski said residents of the Key have a traffic problem first and foremost. Parking, he says, has only become a collateral issue over time.

“I would look at things like [how we expanded] the parking at Siesta Beach and, looking back, was that a good idea?’’ he said. “Well, it encourages more cars to come over, and we have bigger traffic problems. The holy grail of this whole thing is finding a way to get people on and off this island without driving their car.”

Sarasota County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Director Nicole Rissler, however, doesn’t think either parking or traffic takes precedence.

“I think they’re combined,’’ she said. “If we don’t have parking, the traffic backs up. In general, everyone loves Siesta Key for lots of good reasons. 

“So, between residents and visitors and seasonal residents, everyone — especially in season — wants to come to Siesta.”

The question that remains, then, is which options the community will deem most feasible. But from paid parking to remote parking to a new toll to cross the bridges to Siesta Key and more, there is one specific option that concerns Kusekoski most: bike sharing.

Kusekoski argues that Siesta Key wouldn’t be able to safely install bike sharing because of the community’s lack of dedicated bike paths. There’s no room available, he says, to even consider adding them, even if money were available.

One of the criticisms of bike-sharing on Siesta is that successful ventures often are driven by commuters, not tourists and visitors. Bike shops in the community already rent bicycles.

Therefore, Kusekoski’s greatest hope regarding congestion is simply that officials will broach the subject with patience and care.

“It needs to be looked at in a holistic way. The last thing I want to see is something done quickly,” Kusekoski said. “I really want it to be studied carefully. Plan it out. Do the right series of studies and do the right thing.”

In all, there might not be any easy solutions to Siesta’s parking and traffic. But, in anticipation of the upcoming workshop, Rissler wants people to know the workshop is designated as an open forum for discussion, not a meeting where any conclusive plans will be presented or decided on.

“I don’t know that we anticipate any solutions,” Rissler said. “It is truly just a workshop to allow community input to be heard.”

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