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Sarasota Wednesday, Jul. 11, 2018 1 year ago

My View: Pedestrian overpasses are not the answer

Past studies show not that many people actually want to cross Tamiami Trail by foot. Build larger traffic islands, not bridges.
by: Roger Skidmore

About 10 years ago, the Sarasota Observer published an article citing a study done in downtown Sarasota. The study was about access to the areas west of U.S. 41 — Bayfront and Centennial Parks.

Much discussion before the study, in print and at city-sponsored meetings, centered about the supposed inability of those wishing to get to Bayfront Park and Centennial Park. Therefore, the first part of the study was about conditions relative to crossing Tamiami Trail at the time those feelings were at their highest.

Timings done for the study showed that a person using a walker or wheelchair could cross in the time allotted before traffic started up again — if they began at the start of crossing cycles.

The second part of the study was about the need (or desire) for people even to attempt to cross U.S. 41. Those to the east of U.S. 41 were asked if they knew about the attractions west of Tamiami Trail, and did they wish to go there if they could do so easily. Those who knew about the parks said they enjoyed them but did not wish to go at that time. They said they were busy shopping, visiting galleries, going to the movies or library, having lunch, etc. They did not have time nor energy to go to both areas in the same day.

Those in the parks along the Bay were asked similar questions: When they were finished relaxing along the bayfront, did they wish to cross U.S. 41 and spend time there? The answers were uniform: No, I’ll enjoy myself here and then return home.

Residents and tourists alike have limited time, even when doing nothing and just wandering around. They pick one place to go or one activity to pursue. The only people who did go to both were those knowing three-hour parking was allowed around Marina Jack’s rather than the two hours allowed downtown.

So why all the discussion about the “inability” to cross Tamiami Trail?

There are two schools of thought about that. The first being that many urban planners see parks as being under-utilized. If people aren’t in the park, something must be stopping them. If parks are on the other side of some divide, the divide is at fault. Hence the need to bridge that divide with something like a bridge.

If the bridge, overpass, underpass or magic flying carpet was there, thousands more people would cross over and properly use the park. But spending millions on a wished-for result is not always the wisest course.

It also became evident that part of the question being raised about crossing U.S. 41 were discussions about the roundabouts being proposed from 14th Street around to where Orange and Osprey intersected Mound.

The City Commission wanted to slow traffic along the bayfront so people who did not want to cross Tamiami Trail would have time to do so, even though they already had enough time, based on how traffic lights were timed. The proposed roundabouts would slow traffic but would make it more difficult for people to cross 41. Some, seeing that as
a problem, suggested an overpass rather than traffic lights, which were being eliminated.

Now The Bay is suggesting three overpasses (costing millions) be built just for people crossing U.S. 41 to the new Centennial Park.

One: Just who are these people wanting to walk to the park?

Two: Isn’t there going to be a two-story parking garage in the park?

If people aren’t crossing U.S. 41 because they perceive it is hard to cross (even when it isn’t), wouldn’t changing the perception be easier (and cheaper) than building three overpasses?

Building larger traffic islands in the center of Tamiami Trail, where the city wants people to cross, coupled with much larger signs showing the amount of time left to cross, would let even the slowest  person know he could make it. And if he couldn’t make it across in time, would not standing in a large landscaped place in the middle be more attractive than walking a greater distance up a long wheelchair accessible inclined ramp.

Safety is also an issue. Those not taking the longer route, who jaywalk, are at risk of being hit by drivers not expecting pedestrians.

And, if the city is, as it says it is, putting roundabouts at those intersections, aren’t they the large traffic islands where people could wait to finish crossing Tamiami Trail without the need for an overpass?

Rodger Skidmore is a resident of Siesta Key.

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