Possibilities include adding a trolley system and water taxi to alleviate traffic woes.
Heavy traffic from downtown Sarasota to Longboat Key has been a point of contention for years, especially during season when snowbirds visit the barrier island.
Town, city, county and state leaders have had discussions on ways to best remedy traffic woes. It includes adding a trolley system over the John Ringling Causeway from downtown Sarasota to St. Armands Circle, which city of Sarasota Chief Transportation Planner Colleen McGue says could happen as early as next season.
“We’d be able to take advantage of providing some type of pilot program to connect the barrier islands on that shoulder lane during the time of year when we have a lot of people here,” McGue said during the Sarasota City Commission meeting on July 20. “Providing them with an alternate mode of transportation would help take some of the pressure off the particular facilities.”
Other suggestions, far more ambitious, include a dedicated lane for an electrically powered shuttle and even an overhead aerial tram system.
Sarasota City Commissioner Hagen Brody said he was a proponent of the trolley proposal on the existing roadways, not a “far-fetched idea of having a little electric bubble” on the shoulder of the Ringling Bridge competing with bicycles.
“We are looking for a trolley that people can use sooner rather than later that they can get it from downtown to the beach or downtown to the circle and vice versa,” Brody said. “That has to be a traditional trolley on the roadway. We cannot wait for the road improvements and the Coon Key Bridge to be expanded to accommodate that.”
McGue said the city is continuing to have conversations with the Florida Department of Transportation about design modifications. It’s unclear how much a trolley system would cost and what exactly it would entail.
Longboat Key and Sarasota leaders have also discussed the possibility of adding a water taxi from the mainland to the barrier islands.
“We are finalizing our water taxi feasibility study right now,” McGue said. “We look forward to working with the town, and the implementation of that potentially.”
Longboat Key Mayor Ken Schneier wrote a letter to Sarasota city commissioners asking for the planning and implementation of alternative modes of transportation to the barrier islands. In conjunction with Sarasota County, FDOT and the island communities, his letter mentioned the possibility of adding water taxis, cable cars, improved mass transit and alternate and counterflow lanes.
Sarasota staff read Schneier’s letter before commissioners voted against implementing the Sarasota In Motion plan on July 20.
Longboat leaders for years have opposed mainland-sourced road projects that can prompt barrier island gridlock.
The possibility of adding alternative means of transportation also came up during the July 15 Barrier Islands’ Elected Officials meeting involving the town of Longboat Key and the cities of Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach.
“We are looking at reconfiguring the Ringling Bridge to make it accessible for micro-transit,” said Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization Strategic Planning Manager Leigh Holt.
The Sarasota/Manatee MPO is the regional transportation planning entity for Sarasota and Manatee counties.
Holt said the goal would be to get 10% of the people who use their cars to get to and from the barrier islands, and get them to use transit.
“Some people don’t want to give up their cars and they’re not going to,” Holt said.
Longboat Key Commissioner Jack Daly has been a proponent of the town working with surrounding cities, counties, state and federal government to remedy traffic problems in the town.
Daly also mentioned Schneier’s proposal of constructing pedestrian overpasses at U.S. 41 as a means of keeping vehicular traffic moving instead of stopping for individual pedestrians. There are several alternative transportation proposals local leaders could consider.
“Will we see any of these in our lifetime? I think so,” Daly said. “But, it’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of effort and a lot of continued vigilance and focus to prioritize and then to coalesce as best we can for regional solutions like that.”
In the short term, Daly said there are two low-cost solutions that would help alleviate traffic congestion on the south end of the island:
- Daly would like to see police officers help direct traffic each year from Christmas until Easter in St. Armands Circle.
- Daly believes parking should be reconfigured on the west side of St. Armands Circle.
“What happens because of the congestion of parking vehicles comes in and out, and as angled parking here that there is a lot of backup on St. Armands Circle,” Daly said. “Removing those identified spaces on the right as you go towards the beach, open that up for continuous flow. That’ll make a nice change on that. We’ve been working and gotten very good support over the last couple of years with that.”
The Sarasota/Manatee MPO’s next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 18.