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A man waits at a Sarasota County Area Transit bus on University Parkway. The Manatee County Area Transit service provides no buses on University Parkway east of U.S. 301.
East County Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013 4 years ago

MPO commissions bus-service study

by: Josh Siegel Staff Writer

LAKEWOOD RANCH — Schroeder-Manatee Ranch officials want people to study in Lakewood Ranch, to become employed there, to live there, to visit there, to have fun there and to be treated medically there — as the master-planned community’s slogan and product offerings attest.

But Lakewood Ranch, as local officials and constituents will tell you, is without something to truly connect it all — the hospital, the universities, the homes, the restaurants, the work — to complete the vision.

The Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) has hired a consultant, Tindale-Oliver & Associates, to complete a study to determine if bus service can be that connector for Lakewood Ranch.

“What is the need for bus service for a suburban-type area?” said Mike Howe, director of the MPO. “The need is that you have all this growth, and you don’t want to continue to expand roadways and destroy the environment. You also don’t want to destroy the nature of what Lakewood Ranch has done so wonderfully.”
Hired in April, Tindale-Oliver is moving quickly to gather data, interviewing Lakewood Ranch employers and probing the public as it did when it ran a booth at Music on Main in June.

It will learn more at an MPO Public Transit Open House Aug.12, at the Manatee County Central Library.
This step comes after Manatee County earned a service development grant from the Florida Department of Transportation in February 2011 — money dedicated to expand transit in Lakewood Ranch.

The funding becomes available in fiscal year 2015-16, so implementation of bus service would not begin until then.

Currently, Manatee County Area Transit (MCAT) service on State Road 64 goes only as far east as Interstate 75. Service on State Road 70 ends at the Walmart, at U.S. 301.

Laura Everitt, the Tindale-Oliver project manager conducting the study, will seek answers to obvious questions that make the case unique.

• Is bus service a good fit for community that’s not quite urban — a community bent on becoming more high-density, residentially and commercially, while maintaining the charm and calm that helps it attract retirees?

• Is bus service necessary when most of Lakewood Ranch’s residents have cars?

• Who would ride the bus?

“It’s an interesting study,” Everitt said. “Lakewood Ranch is not a downtown area. It’s a development outside of a downtown. A lot of people are not transit-dependent. People have choices. But, it’s also about getting employers and students to Lakewood Ranch. What to we do to make it amendable to those riders?”

Robin Parsons, business development director of the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance, says low-wage workers and students — many who do not live here — could benefit most from bus service.

The Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, which offers medical, dental and pharmacy degrees, also attracts its share of low-income people — in the form of customers.
Beginning in March, students of LECOM’s School of Dental Medicine will provide comprehensive care, including cavity treatment, crowns and cleanings, to the public from inside the school’s patient clinic.
Most of those patients will be low-income and, possibly, without transportation.

“We love to give patients that care, but how useful is it if many won’t have access to it?” asked Jasmine Shafagh, a second-year dental student at LECOM.

For SMR, adding bus service to Lakewood Ranch is a natural fit.

The company’s development of regional impact requires it to cooperate with transportation agencies when a plan for bus service is established.

“As we move into new areas and look at more dense development and mixed-use projects, it lends itself to mass transit,” said Todd Pokrywa, SMR’s vice president of planning. “If routes and stops are placed appropriately, there can be ridership.”

Pokrywa said one potential option could be to create a Lakewood Ranch trolley that connects to MCAT and Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) routes and travels north to south on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard from State Road 64 to University Parkway.

“There’s a spine along with nodes along Lakewood Ranch Boulevard where it would make sense,” Pokrywa said.

Everitt has met with Pokrywa, as she will with many people in the next two months.

From there, using the data she gathered, Everitt and her staff will present two to three alternative alignments that identify how bus service would work to a project-review committee made up of MPO board members, MCAT and SCAT staff and Florida Department of Transportation employees. The committee will recommend where to go from there — to tweak an alternative or to accept one.

Transit officials, then, would appear before the Manatee County Board of County Commissioners with a route recommendation and cost.

Everitt’s job also requires her to develop a financial plan for the project.

Should commissioners OK the plan, the FDOT would pay 50% of the cost for the first three years, but costs would be borne by Manatee County after that time.

Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].

If you go
MPO Transit Open House
When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 12
Where: Manatee County Central Library, 1301 Barcarrota Blvd., Bradenton
Details: Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Organization officials will be on hand to answer questions and take feedback about potential transit service to Lakewood Ranch.

The data points
“Students who do not have, or cannot find, transportation are choosing their second and third choices for furthering their education, because they have no other option.”
— Ronai Krugh, a career counselor at Manatee Technical Institute

“I think that a bus system, in theory, is a really good idea. However, I don’t think LECOM students would utilize it, because it’s more convenient to have your own car — especially when you have a suitcase of books.”
— Morgan Pyne, LECOM third-year medical student

“Sometimes, my staff will pick employees up at their homes, because they have no ride. But, I’ve had to let people go because their cars are not serviceable.”
— Rob Ferguson, the corporate director of sales for the Holiday Inn and Fairfield Inn and Suites in Lakewood Ranch

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