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Walt Olson. Photo by Nick Friedman.
Siesta Key Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012 9 years ago

Observed: Olson may yet prove the value of persistence

by: Rachel Brown Hackney Managing Editor

Having worked as a journalist for more than three decades (yes, I’m giving away my age here), I’ve had the opportunity to get to know more than a few people on a mission. None of them, however, has been any more passionate about a project than the Key’s own Walt Olson.

As vice president of the Siesta Key Condominium Council, and a full-time Key resident for the past 13 years, Olson is well versed in the numerous issues with which condo dwellers must deal. To say he is doggedly determined about making life easier for those residents is an understatement.

And while not all condo owners agree with Olson’s views, he has been meticulous in making his cases for them.

From last summer through last week, Olson and I have been regular correspondents on the subject of pedestrian safety options for the 1-mile segment of Midnight Pass Road on which he lives.

Olson is continuing to argue against the Florida Department of Transportation’s proposal to construct 10 pedestrian islands on Midnight Pass Road between the Stickney Point Road and Beach Road intersections. The news about FDOT’s plans appeared in Sarasota County Commission correspondence about the time Olson was heading back to his home state of Michigan for a summer respite.

Once he returned to Siesta, Olson went to work, contacting managers and homeowners association officers at the 34 condominium complexes on the affected portion of the road, pointing out how there had to be better options than putting those islands in the center turn lane.

I have to digress here, for a moment. In my haste some days to finish stories on deadline, I occasionally fail to hear alarm bells go off in my head when I write something that isn’t accurate. Last week, in a story about FDOT’s plan to go forward with crosswalk construction late this spring on Midnight Pass Road, I attributed to Olson an inaccurate estimate of the seasonal population in those 34 condo complexes. Olson nicely pointed out to me late last week that he had put the number at 7,000, although I had written 70,000 in the Feb. 16 article.

Unfortunately, that’s not the first time I have been a bit inaccurate in conveying something he told me in an interview. He took a bit of ribbing a few weeks ago, he said, when I wrote an article about the final pedestrian safety option FDOT had included in a survey it sent to residents and mentioned “rumble strips.”

Olson was referring to the plan’s inclusion of small, light-reflective chips known as reflective pavement markers, or RPMs, as FDOT spokeswoman Cindy Clemmons explained. Those RPMs will be placed in the center lane near the six crosswalks FDOT plans to build; they are used for light reflectivity at night. If a driver goes over them, the action does create a noticeable “bump.” However, Olson said, “rumble strip” is not the best way to characterize them.

In spite of those goofs, Olson has been ever the gentleman.

Even though FDOT seems determined to proceed with its crosswalk plan, Olson has not given up on getting the speed limit reduced on the affected segment of road, instead of the crosswalk construction. He concedes he has little chance of succes, but he hopes the County Commission at least won’t give up on the speed limit.

Still, he confessed recently that the repetition of his communications with the commissioners and FDOT representatives “feels like ‘Groundhog Day’ a little bit.” He was referring to the 1993 film of that name starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell, during which Murray’s character keeps reliving Feb. 2.

Fans of “Groundhog Day” know that although Murray’s TV weather forecaster suffered a lot of frustrations, he finally achieved success. I’m willing to bet that Olson, like Murray’s character, ultimately will see a happy conclusion to his months-long endeavor.

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