County officials are slowly but surely advancing a litany of options for addressing Siesta Key's parking shortage.
County officials are considering a battery of changes on Siesta Key that could transform the parking and transportation policies on the island.
That’s not to say changes are imminent. In general, the potential changes aren’t novel proposals, either.
The County Commission has spent more than a year examining options for addressing a parking shortage and traffic congestion on the Key. The board has intentionally taken a slow pace in considering any adjustments, wanting to thoroughly vet the proposals.
Although it hasn’t been a fast-paced discussion, it has advanced. At a July 11 meeting, the commission directed staff to set up a workshop later this year focused solely on Siesta Key parking and transit.
In September or October — the date is still to be determined — officials and residents could have an opportunity to shape the future of those topics.
The changes could include the establishment of paid parking at Siesta Key Beach, the creation of a shuttle service between the island and a mainland parking lot, the addition of a bike-share program and the construction of new parking spaces.
Here’s an outline of the concepts that are set for consideration at the forthcoming workshop:
In theory, the idea of implementing a paid parking program at Siesta Key Beach isn’t particularly controversial.
The Siesta Key Association and Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce both conducted surveys that showed at least 65% of respondents are willing to support some form of paid parking at the beach.
Potential disputes arise in the details, though. In the chamber survey, the 65% in support were specifically backing the idea if nonresidents of the county were the only ones who had to pay. Among the Siesta Key Association, the results were more divided. In the survey, 22% said county residents should have to pay a full rate, 32% said they should pay a reduced rate and 46% said they should not have to pay at all.
Carolyn Brown, the county’s parks and recreation director, said a paid parking program at the beach could encourage more carpooling or use of alternative modes of transportation, which could reduce traffic. She said the revenue could also be used to fund a multifaceted parking and transportation strategy on the island.
County Commissioner Al Maio suggested Brown initiate dialogue with leaders from SKA, the chamber and the Siesta Key Condominium Council to start examining the details of a paid parking program. SKA President Gene Kusekoski agreed on the need to advance the talks.
“I think we’re pretty in tune on the three major organizations around Siesta Key that paid parking is a good idea,” Kusekoski said. “Now, the challenge becomes, let’s figure out the nuts and bolts and mechanics of it.”
Park and ride
Kusekoski agrees with county staff’s decision to advance a multitude of strategies for addressing parking issues on Siesta, but he thinks one of the options could be the most significant if successfully implemented.
Among residents, the idea of creating a shuttle from a mainland parking site to the Key is even more popular than paid parking. More than 80% of the respondents in the SKA survey said they would like to see that sort of service.
The challenge is cost. Brown said preliminary estimates pegged the expense of extending the existing Siesta Key Breeze trolley to the mainland at $1.2 million, and it would require a $5 charge each way for users to fund the operation.
Kusekoski suggested the trolley might be insufficient for families of four bringing equipment to the beach. He suggested the county should consider shuttles similar to those used by rental car services, allowing for the storage of more goods.
Brown said representatives for the Westfield Siesta Key mall near the north bridge and Sarasota Pavilion shopping center near the south bridge were both willing to offer spaces if the county was willing to pay for it.
Maio said he was disheartened that shopping centers weren’t more interested in engaging the county on opportunities for a collaborative parking initiative. He suggested property owners might be worried about complying with county parking requirements, and said he’d like to see the county approach the topic with some flexibility.
The county is continuing to explore the possibility of starting a bike-share program on Siesta Key, potentially teaming with a private vendor.
A group of stakeholders is evaluating the results of a county request for information about bike-sharing operations. Although that analysis is ongoing, Brown said county staff is interested in reducing the reliance on cars.
“We want to encourage bicycling as an alternative transportation,” Brown said.
Brown said the county is also considering a bike locker pilot program at the beach, designed to provide enhanced safety compared to the existing bike racks.
“People could feel better about riding their bikes to the beach and that nothing will happen to it when they’re done,” Brown said.
Kusekoski expressed some skepticism about the significance of a bike-share program. He pointed out that there are already multiple bike rental businesses in Siesta Key Village and near the south bridge, and he wondered whether another option would matter much to visitors.
He also said the biking infrastructure on the Key could use improvements. He said the ride from the Village to the beach is generally smooth, but he said it’s rougher cycling from the south end of Siesta.
“My concern to the county has been, if you’re considering this kind of thing on the south end, I would be seriously concerned about biker safety,” Kusekoski said. “The roads are not good for riding.”
There’s a long list of ideas that will get some consideration going forward.
The county recently demolished a structure at 6647 Midnight Pass Road, and staff is exploring the opportunities for adding parking there. Commissioner Nancy Detert encouraged staff to consider the possibility of building a parking garage on that site, though Brown said the logistics could make that challenging.
Brown mentioned that the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization intends to conduct a barrier island traffic study for the area stretching from Siesta Key to Manasota Key. That project could take years to fund and complete, a timeline for which the commission was not interested in waiting.
Other options include hiring of a transportation consultant to produce a master plan and even instituting a toll on Siesta Key, though officials already expressed skepticism about the latter concept.
Brown said other municipalities have not relied on a single solution for addressing similar problems.
“It appears, in just some of the research we’ve done, it’s not one particular thing, but it’s a multipronged approach to addressing the issue,” Brown said.
And, despite the desire to improve parking and transportation, Kusekoski said he’s content with the deliberate pace officials have taken.
“There’s been a parking challenge on Siesta Key for years,” Kusekoski said. “I don’t see any rush to solve it in 2018. I would rather see it methodically done.”