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Siesta Key Thursday, Aug. 24, 2017 2 years ago

Siesta Drive safety campaign progresses

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Residents hope a lowered speed drive on a small segment of Siesta Drive is the first of many changes to the roadway.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

For a day or two earlier this month, a group of residents on north Siesta Key were delighted to see a different version of Siesta Drive — a version those residents wished for, but weren’t certain they would ever experience.

The Florida Department of Transportation had posted new speed limit signs on Siesta Drive and Higel Avenue, between Osprey Avenue and Shell Road. The maximum speed went from 40 mph to 30 mph. For those residents, engaged in a campaign to reduce crashes on Siesta Drive, achieving such a sweeping speed reduction just months after their work began was a coup.

And then, less than 72 hours after the signs went up, they were gone.

It was an error on the part of FDOT, those residents would later learn. The state meant to post the 30 mph signs around the intersection of Siesta and Higel, a little more than a mile west. State officials quickly singled out that small, curved stretch of roadway as particularly problematic.

Whether any more changes are coming to Siesta Drive remains to be seen.

“We’re doing a new study now to look at that area,” FDOT spokesman Zach Burch said.

For the group of residents, which has named its campaign Make Siesta Drive Safer, the diminished scale of the reduced speed zone wasn’t a deflating blow. Instead, the group is headed into a public meeting Monday with a sense of optimism.

“We’re organized; we’re making strides; we’ve got a plan,” said Dee Reams, chairwoman of Make Siesta Drive Safer. “We just need for people to show their support.”

The origins of the Make Siesta Drive Safer campaign are tied to a fatal collision in April near Siesta and Higel, though resident frustration dates back more than three decades, Reams said. Some residents doubted the state would respond, but Reams and others living in the Bay Island neighborhood on north Siesta Key banded together to study the issue.

They pulled data for nearly 200 crashes in the area in the past five years. They went to state officials to share their findings.

In June, the group walked along Siesta Drive and pinpointed problem areas. A few jumped out: the Siesta-Higel curve, of course. The humpback bridge leading into the curve, over which drivers often speed. And the north bridge to Siesta Key itself, one of the most common areas for crashes.

The group drafted an “ask letter” it sent to FDOT officials. The requests included a lower speed limit, crosswalks and barricades. Reams said FDOT made clear that it would take time to implement any significant design changes on the state road. Still, officials were willing to talk with residents.

On Aug. 14, Make Siesta Drive Safer representatives and FDOT staff met on Siesta Drive. They walked the street, residents sharing concerns and FDOT shedding light on how any safety improvements might affect the road.

The group is excited to share what it has learned with residents Monday. Reams thinks, with good turnout, officials can get a better sense of just how many people care about safety on Siesta Drive. Hearing from three or four concerned citizens is one thing. Seeing dozens at a meeting is another.

FDOT is studying the speed of traffic on Siesta Drive between Higel and U.S. 41. Burch said the state hopes to finish that study within six weeks, at which point officials will decide what step to take next.

In the meantime, Reams will rally community support in hopes of achieving even more than a lower speed limit.

“They need to know the community is behind us,” Reams said. “FDOT needs to know. Community leaders need to know.”

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