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Longboat Key Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020 6 months ago

Shuttle service proposed between downtown Sarasota and St. Armands

The proposal calls for the shuttle service to begin for the 2021 peak season.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

Leaders throughout the Sarasota area have continued to examine the possibility of adding micro-transit to take people back and forth between downtown Sarasota and St. Armands Circle.

During Monday’s Barrier Island Traffic Study Steering Committee meeting, Florida Department of Transportation transit planner Mary Ross said the state is working to develop a proposed shuttle route across the John Ringling Causeway.

The FDOT is coordinating with the Sarasota County Area Transit and the city of Sarasota on the proposal, Ross said.

A look at the route for the proposed shuttle service between downtown Sarasota and St. Armands Circle. Map courtesy of the Florida Department of Transportation.

“We have requested funding to operate one bus as a circulator beginning at the SCAT Transfer Center in downtown Sarasota, stopping at the Palm [Avenue] garage and continuing to St. Armands Circle,” Ross said.

A round-trip would take about 30 minutes.

“We will be using SCAT buses and wrap them to look like trolleys,” Ross said. “We’re working towards service beginning for the 2021 peak season.”

The shuttle would mix in with other bridge traffic to start, Ross said. A schedule and cost haven't been determined.

“How that’s going to integrate with the parking, I’m not sure of all of that at the moment, but ideally it would be good to be free parking and also free for the trolley,” Ross said.

Ross said there are also plans to begin looking at the feasibility of a transit-only lane across the Ringling Bridge. The transit-only lane would operate on the shoulder of the Ringling Bridge.

Longboat Key Commissioner Jack Daly asked about the timing of when the transit-only lane could come to fruition and about the possibility of making the transit-only lane reversible.

Ross said she wasn’t sure when the transit-only lane could become a reality with other projects scheduled for the bridge. She also said planners have not looked at adding a reversible lane.

On Monday, the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization also discussed the State Road 789 planning review; updates to the Little Ringling and Longboat Pass bridges; the Anna Maria Bridge, the Cortez Bridge, the Cortez/119th Street project; speed bumps on St. Armands Circle; the Fruitville Road roundabout; Gulfstream Avenue roundabout; and the 2045 Long Range Transportation Plan.

Longboat Key District Four Commissioner Jack Daly is the town's representative on the Metropolitan Planning Organization and with the steering committee of the BITS.

Daly said he would like to see police officers help with pedestrian management in St. Armands Circle as a “seasonal ongoing activity” starting around Christmas time and going through Easter time.

“We think that the speed bumps work, but that they unduly restrict and slow down and congest traffic,” Daly said. “We think and again, it is part of the BITS recommendations with respect to pedestrian-control officers that were started but understandably terminated during the pandemic. We think that’s a better way here to monitor both traffic and pedestrian crossings.”

Daly also said he believes a elevated pedestrian walkway is necessary as part of the Gulfstream roundabout, citing the BITS recommendations.

“I can confirm that we have been investigating. It’s feasible to install one,” said FDOT Gulfstream Roundabout project manager Jeffrey Mednick. “We’ve put together many, many, many different locations and designs to see if we can get it to fit.

“Unfortunately, there are no feasible designs that fit within the right of way, so we’ve actually started talking with the Ritz-Carlton to see if they would be a willing partner and allowing us to use some of their property to put that in.”

Mednick said the first meeting FDOT had with the Ritz-Carlton was “very productive” with another meeting planned.

“If we cannot use the Ritz property, unfortunately, it won’t be able to be built,” Mednick said. “But for now, it sounds like it may work out.”

City of Sarasota Chief Transportation Planner Colleen McGue mentioned the pedestrian bridge would be temporary during the Gulfstream roundabout construction if an agreement is reached with the Ritz-Carlton.

“As far as a long-term pedestrian bridge solution, that is not something that we’re strongly pursuing at this time because we're waiting to see the effect of the roundabout and how that improves pedestrian activity in that intersection in the future,” McGue said.

For years, Longboat leaders have objected to many different Sarasota road projects because of how they can create barrier island gridlock.

“From Longboat Key’s viewpoint, it may well be the best and only way to balance the city’s pedestrian objectives with Longboat Key and the barrier island focus on automobile moderation and improved automobile flow, but we’ll have plenty of discussions on that,” Daly said.

The next Barrier Island Transportation Committee meeting is scheduled for Oct. 12.

Mark Bergin is the Longboat Key Town Hall reporter for the Observer. He has previously worked as a senior digital producer at WTSP, the CBS affiliate in St. Petersburg. Mark is a graduate of the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicagoland area.

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