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Although traffic along Midnight Pass Road can be heavy during season, members of the Siesta Key Condominium Association do not see pedestrian islands as a solution. Photo by Norman Schimmel.
Siesta Key Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011 6 years ago

FDOT focuses on safety with pedestrian islands proposal

by: Rachel Brown Hackney Managing Editor

Siesta Key Condominium Association Vice President Walt Olson has been marshalling his forces — and figures — in advance of a Dec. 6 public meeting with Florida Department of Transportation officials designed to gather public comment on the proposal for pedestrian islands along Midnight Pass Road between the Stickney Point Road and Beach Road intersections.

Olson spent a couple of hours with FDOT representatives earlier this month, taking them to various points along that stretch of road, and he presented information this week to snowbirds returning to the Key for season.

“The No. 1 priority is to kill the project,” Olson said of the pedestrian island proposal.

Siesta Key Association board member Helen Clifford, also the secretary of the Condominium Association, won SKA support for Olson’s initiative. The SKA board members voted unanimously Nov. 3 on a motion opposing the pedestrian islands and recommending FDOT instead place crosswalks and reduce the speed limit along that stretch of road from 35 to 30 mph.

As a result of an amendment offered by SKA board member Bob Waechter, the motion adds that if it comes down to a choice between FDOT putting in the pedestrian islands or doing nothing, the SKA board prefers the latter.

“I am entirely opposed to these islands,” SKA board member Deet Jonker said during the Nov. 3 meeting. “It is tough enough in season, getting back and forth (on Midnight Pass Road without concerns about the islands posing additional problems).”

Clifford said the FDOT had proposed 10 of the islands in the center turn lane on that stretch of road.
“I use the middle lane all the time,” she said. “I’d never be able to get into traffic (without that).”

The pedestrian island idea originated in 2005, after managers of condominium complexes along Midnight Pass Road complained to county commissioners about pedestrians fearing for their safety as they tried to cross the road, especially during periods of heavy traffic usage. However, after the FDOT agreed to the island concept, the county did not have the funding to pursue the project. County Commission Chairwoman Nora Patterson said in June she was surprised to see the idea resurrected this summer, with funding.

FDOT planned no public meeting before pursuing construction, but Patterson intervened, asking for a meeting after seasonal residents returned to the Key.

Olson has been working over the past few months to gain letters of opposition to the pedestrian islands from managers or boards of directors of the 34 condominium complexes along the affected portion of Midnight Pass Road. He said he expected to have letters from all of them by the Dec. 6 meeting.

According to data he has collected, the 34 condo complexes on that 1-mile stretch of road represent 3,909 units. Using an 80% occupancy figure for his calculations, with an average of 2.5 people per unit, Olson estimates the resident total at 8,000 during season. With only six of the complexes having units on both the Gulf of Mexico and bay sides of Midnight Pass Road, Olson said he had determined that about 2,000 people per day during season cross that part of the road, counting residents and another 400 to 600 miscellaneous crossings.

Olson proposes the FDOT construct six crosswalks at the complexes with facilities on both sides of the road, instead of the pedestrian islands. However, an FDOT engineer told SKA members Oct. 6 that the department requires higher pedestrian counts to support a crosswalk plan instead of the islands proposal.

“They’re probably going to hang tough on the walkways,” Olson said.

Still, Olson remains convinced both the crosswalks and a lower speed limit would prove better remedies. He is hopeful, he said, that the FDOT will agree to another study of the situation during season, before making a final decision.

Public comments sought on plan
The Florida Department of Transportation will hold a public meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 6, at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, 5394 Midnight Pass Road, to seek public comments on a plan it has proposed to place pedestrian islands in the segment of Midnight Pass Road between the Stickney Point Road and Beach Road intersections.

The islands are designed to assist people in crossing the road safely, especially when traffic is heavy during season.

The meeting will feature an open-house format from 5 to 6 p.m., allowing attendees to view a map and talk with FDOT engineers. At 6 p.m., a short PowerPoint presentation will be offered. Then, a panel of FDOT engineers will hold a question-and-answer session.

People also are welcome to provide written comments to the FDOT representatives.

The meeting is scheduled to end about 7:30 p.m.

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