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Sarasota Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021 6 months ago

Downtown group pursues mid-block crosswalks

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Downtown leaders are eager to add brick crosswalks to the middle of streets in the heart of the city, but the cost of lighting could make the concept challenging to execute.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

Wayne Ruben thinks there’s a simple way to prove that downtown roads such as Main Street, Palm Avenue and State Street need new mid-block crosswalks — just take a look at the worn-out landscaping that pedestrians trudge past to get to the other side of the street.

Ruben is a board member for the Downtown Improvement District, a self-taxing group of property owners that have expressed interest in adding brick crosswalks in the middle of several downtown streets. Although discussion at Tuesday’s DID board meeting indicated the city wants to gather more information before backing such a project, Ruben and other board members expressed confidence the crosswalks would be a worthwhile investment.

“Anything we’re doing is making it better,” Ruben said. “People are already crossing.”

The board heard a preliminary presentation on brick crosswalks from Phil Smith, a landscape architect with David W. Johnston Associates. Smith passed along early feedback he got on the concept from city engineering staff, who said they wanted to ensure foot traffic justified putting mid-block crosswalks in the five locations the DID identified:

  •  1400 and 1500 blocks of Main Street;
  • North Palm Avenue and South Palm Avenue;
  • State Street

Smith said city staff also wanted any mid-block crosswalk to include flashing pavement lighting, similar to what’s in place on Osprey Avenue in Southside Village near Morton’s Gourmet Market. Smith said the lighting represented a significant cost increase for the type of project the DID envisioned: The brick crosswalks alone would cost about $30,000, but the lighting would add $75,000 more per installation.

DID board members expressed some dissatisfaction with the notion lighting could raise the overall price for the crosswalks from $150,000 to $525,000. DID board member Mark Kauffman suggested the group could explore the feasibility of raised “cross tables” instead of crosswalks. Ruben asked whether the city might be amenable to allowing the crosswalks to feature less expensive reflectors. Smith said the DID could approach the city with the idea, but he reiterated his understanding that staff wanted to emphasize safety if they moved forward with any mid-block crossing.

Board member Eileen Hampshire said the DID and the city should consider committing to the more expensive option for a higher-quality final product.

“If we’re going to do it, let’s do it,” Hampshire said. “Be the best.”

Tuesday’s discussion did not cover major questions, such as who would be responsible for funding the construction of the crosswalks and when they could realistically be built. The DID remains interested in pursuing the concept, but the board agreed to pause its conversation until it could approach city leaders about what options might be feasible for the mid-block crossings.

Although the group saw the idea as an opportunity for an aesthetic upgrade downtown, board members also expressed their belief the crosswalks could be an important safety improvement.

“It’s really dangerous,” Hampshire said of pedestrians crossing in the middle of the street under current conditions. “We’re just one step away from having something major happen.”

 

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