Town begins looking at options for upgrading.
“Near misses” with cars along Gulf of Mexico Drive have prompted town leaders to examine the possibility of improving crosswalks.
The town met with the Florida Department of Transportation in December about enhancing safety at six so-called Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons.
“We’ve had some complaints and I think they’ve been off and on, especially concerning complaints in the fall this past year regarding what I’ve described as ‘near misses’ with cars that were not stopping at the yellow flashing lights,” Town Manager Tom Harmer said.
Longboat Key resident Arthur Wood described a situation he experienced this month while riding his bike along Gulf of Mexico Drive near the Country Club Shores neighborhood. He said he saw a car nearly hit a woman trying to cross the street.
“I saw the light go into amber, flashing, but the car went straight through,” Wood said. “It nearly hit her, and I’ve seen that driving up and down the Key and cycling — I cycle a lot up and down the Key — I’ve seen it many times where cars just go straight through the light.”
Longboat Key Public Works Director Isaac Brownman said the town is looking to modify six pedestrian crossings at:
- Country Club Shores Phase IV (North entrance) and Longboat Club Road (North entrance)
- Just north of the Diplomat and Turtle Coffee Bar
- Bayfront Park
- Banyan Bay Club just north of Sandham Place [5200 block of GMD]
- North of Companion Way at Cedars West [5600 block GMD]
- Between Broadway Street and North Shore Road
However, Brownman said the town might start with changes to one or two crossings on a pilot basis.
Brownman estimated the upgrades would cost between $15,000-$45,000 per crosswalk. He said the provider gave him a higher estimate than FDOT, even though the state also uses the same provider.
“I don’t know why there’s such a gap there because the person I talked to is the FDOT-approved provider,” Brownman said.
“That sounds like the spread I got for painting my house,” Mayor Ken Schneier joked.
The state also wants municipalities to be responsible for each crosswalk’s approximate $4,000 cost of yearly maintenance.
The town and FDOT discussed several proposals to improve Gulf of Mexico Drive crosswalks, including illuminated pavement markers, raised crosswalks, improved street lighting, additional rectangular rapid flashing beacons, in-pavement signs and enhanced law enforcement presence. Brownman called the internally illuminated pavement markers a “good solution” specifically for Gulf of Mexico Drive.
Whitney Beach Association external affairs chair Bryan Forrester has been on contact with the town about the possibility of adding a crosswalk near his community. Forrester said he was friends with Warren Roberts, who was killed crossing the street in May 2018 along Gulf of Mexico Drive.
“The lady whose husband passed away is a good, close friend of ours, and you can just see the sadness on her face when she talks about these things,” Forrester said. “If we can prevent that from ever happening again that would be a great thing for the entire community, not just Whitney Beach.”
Forrester said he would like to see an additional crosswalk added near the Whitney Beach at 6701 Gulf of Mexico Drive. However, he acknowledged there are future plans of adding a roundabout at Gulf of Mexico Drive and Broadway.
“The prime reason for us [to add a crosswalk] is that it really is kind of precarious to walk across the street, especially at dusk when we’re going to and from the beach for sunsets,” Forrester said.
Since they were installed, town leaders and residents questioned the safety and effectiveness of the amber flashing lights in alerting drivers to the presence of pedestrians. Red-light equipped crosswalks were built along U.S. 41 in downtown Sarasota, and at the city's new roundabouts. State transportation officials say those signals are designed for higher-traffic zones.
“We’ve been taught since we were 16 years old that yellow means slow and red means stop,” Vice Mayor Haycock said.
The crosswalks as they exist now were recommended in 2013 in an Urban Land Institute report, in addition to medians where feasible. FDOT added the crosswalks but not the medians.
Two months after the crosswalks were installed in 2016, a resident was struck trying to make it across Gulf of Mexico Drive near the entrance to Country Club Shores IV. A police report said the driver failed to yield.
Responding to then-town manager Dave Bullock’s letter demanding FDOT “make corrections to these crosswalks so that our citizens can safely use them, or if your staff doesn’t know how to fix them, remove them …” FDOT presented a layout for additional signs instructing pedestrians how to use the signals. The town expedited the process and purchased the signs itself.
Fire and Emergency Medical Services liaison Tina Adams explained that while traffic regulations require stopping at crosswalks for pedestrians, a wary eye is often a good idea.
“The pedestrian has to make that common sense and know just don’t walk out in front of traffic. Let the vehicle stop before they progress into the walkway.”
If a driver does not yield when a light is activated, Adams said the driver is subject to a moving violation. It includes a $166 fee and is worth three points on the driver’s record.
The town will continue to work with FDOT and Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization about potential funding and timing of a project for the internally illuminated reflective pavement markings.
Upgraded street lighting at crosswalks is already part of the town's plan to add new poles and lights when underground utilities have been installed on Gulf of Mexico Drive.