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East County Wednesday, Jun. 9, 2021 1 year ago

Manatee County listens to Lakewood Ranch bike safety pleas

Feedback was vital in deciding to reinstate a bike lane at S.R. 70 and Lakewood Ranch Boulevard.
by: Brendan Lavell Staff Writer

Local cyclists said they have had no way to safely cross S.R. 70 since a bike lane at the intersection of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard was removed in July.

That is scheduled to change by October.

After holding discussions with the local cycling community, Manatee County has planned to once again add a bike lane at the intersection. Manatee County Public Works Department Strategic Affairs Manager Ogden Clark III said the county plans to finish the bike lane by October.

On the northern side of the intersection, the county has planned to add a 7-foot bike lane between Lakewood Ranch Boulevard’s two southbound through lanes and two right-turn lanes.

Plans for the southern side of the intersection are still in flux because the pavement will require much more extensive repair work compared to the north side, and the county has not yet decided how much resurfacing and restriping will be necessary.

Clark said it was never the county’s intention to remove the bike lane permanently. Rather, the county wanted to add the bike lane when the intersection and surrounding area was due for resurfacing to fix scarring and other issues with the asphalt near the intersection.

However, the county then learned it would be several years before the Florida Department of Transportation resurfaced the road. With feedback from the community, Clark said the county decided to act on its own and reinstate the bike lane sooner rather than waiting for FDOT.

Rendering of the north side of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard at the intersection with S.R. 70, which is under review and undergoing final edits, shows a 7-foot bike lane. The southern half's design is incomplete. (Courtesy Manatee Co.)

The county will therefore do its own resurfacing work while adding the bike lane. Resurfacing and striping on the northern side of the intersection is estimated to cost about $208,000, according to Clark. The cost of the southern side will depend on how much repair work the county decides to do and how much asphalt is used, but it will likely fall between $98,000 and $210,000. It cost about $36,000 to remove the bike lane last summer.

Dawn Zielinski, the president of Lakewood Ranch-based Village Idiots Cycling Club, which won the Florida Bicycle Association’s 2020 Club of the Year award in April, said S.R. 70 was a good meeting spot for cyclists before the bike lane was removed because it cuts Lakewood Ranch down the middle. The club pleaded with the county to make the intersection safe.

The lack of a bike lane also has been a problem for cyclists who live north of S.R. 70 and want to ride their bikes to the starting point of Village Idiots group rides, typically at Main Street at Lakewood Ranch.

Village Idiots Cycling Club members Dawn Zielinski and Andrea Sacchetti ride on southbound Lakewood Ranch Boulevard before entering the intersection with State Road 70.

“We have over 80 people who ride on a given Wednesday and Saturday,” Zielinski said. “It is completely unsafe to take that many people across an intersection that doesn't have a bicycle lane.”

Since the bike lane was removed, Zielinski said large groups of cyclists have typically used the standard lanes on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard to cross S.R. 70 under the assumption that most drivers are far more likely to notice a large group than one or two individuals.

Zielinski said solo riders have mostly shifted to the sidewalk, which isn’t ideal because it often means navigating around pedestrians. Also, most of the cyclists ride road bikes, which have thin tires and easily puncture. This means they’re not well-suited to ride over debris that is more often found on sidewalks than in the road.

Village Idiots Cycling Club members Andrea Sacchetti and Dawn Zielinski ride on southbound Lakewood Ranch Boulevard before entering the intersection with State Road 70.

“With all the COVID shortages that we're having around the world, there are no tires to be bought right now for road bikes,” Zielinski said. “If we puncture a tire, we basically can't ride.”

Before the bike lane was removed from the intersection, southbound Lakewood Ranch Boulevard had three through lanes and one right-turn lane. After studying the intersection, the county decided to change the rightmost through lane into a turn lane because the only turn lane was often backed up.

The bike lane was located between the three through lanes and the right turn lane. While studying the intersection, county staff noticed the bike lane was only 4 feet wide. State statute says a keyhole bike lane, defined as any bike lane located between a through lane and turn lane, must be at least 5 feet wide. The old bike lane was likely built while the statute only required a 3-foot bike lane, according to Clark.

Clark said it was not possible to restripe all the lanes required for the intersection reconfiguration while also accommodating relocated bike lanes. The county installed signs before and at the points where the bike lanes ended to tell cyclists they could ride in the regular lanes or on sidewalks and added shared-use markings on the road.

Village Idiots Cycling Club members Andrea Sacchetti and Dawn Zielinski finish crossing State Road 70 on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard. A bike lane will soon be reinstated at the intersection on southbound Lakewood Ranch Boulevard.

Clark said the county’s main mistake during the process was making a judgment about the bike lane based mostly on the fact it did not meet state requirements. He said the county had focused largely on complaints about the danger of the intersection, especially as it pertained to cars navigating cyclists.

“When they went out there to kind of modify (the intersection), they made an assumption that the bike lane — being substandard — would not be missed,” Clark said. “There are things that I think we will take away from this. The biggest thing is looking at the neighborhood, the surrounding uses, what people are using that for, and just try to consider those things when we're trying to make changes.”

Zielinski has been frustrated because she said the county did not talk to local cyclists before removing the lane.

Since then, however, she said county staff has been much more communicative with the cycling community. Zielinski said she appreciated county staff’s willingness to solicit and include feedback from cyclists in the decision-making process this time around. She said cooperation from county staff and commissioners is essential if the Lakewood Ranch area is to remain a safe cycling destination.

“I am so excited about the momentum of cycling and pedestrian awareness that we have going on in the county right now,” Zielinski said. “I think they're much more aware of us now and the stakeholders that are in the area, in Lakewood Ranch. We're working together.”

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Brendan Lavell is a general assignment reporter for the Observer. He earned degrees in journalism and history at the University of Missouri. He has visited 48 of the 50 United States, has a black cat named Arya and roots for the Eagles, Flyers, Phillies, 76ers and Chelsea FC.

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