Siesta Key residents aren't keen on the idea of county's plan for roundabouts in the island community.
Siesta Key residents aren't so sure roundabouts are right for their community, hoping instead for improvements to pedestrian and cycling pathways and trolley updates.
In a briefing recently before the Siesta Key Association, Sarasota County Public Works Director Spencer Anderson addressed members on the design and benefits of the coming roundabout, which was approved in October for Midnight Pass Road and Beach Road.
“Having a signal in this location is a liability, especially in the event of power outages,” Anderson said. “One of the benefits of the roundabout is that it works regardless of if you have power. Also, you generally don’t have to stop unless someone is in the roundabout, which could keep traffic flowing.”
Anderson also said the roundabout would be more aesthetically pleasing compared to the signal. The design has included open space for plants or public art, which has yet to be determined.
Anderson said the roundabout would significantly reduce the likelihood of a serious crash. Because there would not be an intersection, there would be fewer opportunities for vehicles to collide.
“The points of conflict are significantly reduced with the roundabout,” Anderson said. “It significantly reduces if it doesn’t entirely eliminate the possibility of a fatal crash. Because the types of crashes that do happen with roundabouts happen on the side, they are not head-on collisions.”
The roundabout is expected be designed by the fall, and construction is expected to begin in summer 2023. Construction of the roundabout is planned to coincide with a resurfacing project of Midnight Pass Road from Stickney Point Road to Shadow Lawn Way.
According to Siesta Key Association President Catherine Luckner, it's not so much the design of the traffic feature but rather its presence over other traffic improvements that residents object to.
“There are a lot of people who live right off these roads, and their driveways open right to them. People are concerned if they will be able to get out of their driveways,” Luckner said. “I tried to explain to everyone that we were supposed to ask questions about the roundabout, but they began to fuss. It was a very lively meeting to say the least.”
According to Anderson, the design has allowed for large trucks to use the circle with ease. Crosswalks and pedestrian pathways will be located outside of the roundabout, which Anderson ensured would be the safety solution to the current traffic concerns.
“When you have large trucks come through, it’s designed for them to maneuver around it,” Anderson said. “Vehicles with wide wheelbases will benefit heavily from that. Also the sidewalks on the outside of the roundabout will be about 10 feet compared to the 5-foot sidewalks now.”
In 2015, Florida Department of Transportation officials polled residents about a preferred update to the intersection, with a majority voting against the roundabout. So, FDOT officials began designing an improved signalized intersection, which was about 60% complete.
However, after the county and FDOT swapped control of several Siesta Key roads in exchange for River Road in the south end of the county, staff found a roundabout at the intersection would be a better option.
“Overall, traffic studies have determined that the roundabout is a more efficient intersection as far as moving vehicles in and out of the intersection instead of stopping at a light,” Anderson said.
Siesta Key residents had different ideas
Luckner said discussion of future, additional roundabouts just doesn't fit with community needs. Anderson said a proposal for a roundabout at Higel Avenue and Ocean Boulevard could be previewed with temporary barriers to try out traffic flow before deciding on permanent implementation.
“This is a small area where we can try this out at a very low cost,” Anderson said. “That’s going to start later this month in May. It’s already been awarded by the County Commission and it’s intended to also solve some flooding issues.”
Additionally, parking design has been expected to change near the coming roundabout on Ocean Boulevard. Luckner said that several businesses are concerned that traffic will build up because of the parking, and that some of the parking spaces for the businesses will be lost.
Luckner said she'd rather see the roundabout money spent in other ways.
“Residents want to change the Commission’s minds. They want to save that million dollars to implement better pedestrian access, or access to the trolley,” Luckner said. “You would think that if the issue is that there’s too many cars on the Key, they would put their focus on implementing other things.”
Luckner said the Siesta Key Association has already put forward ideas they had to improve traffic on the island. Firstly, she recalled the group’s request to implement a beach parking app to be funded through the penny surtax.
The idea would consist of placing markers in each individual beach parking space that would record the presence of a car in a parking spot, feeding an app that would inform users about availabilty.
The proposal for the parking app was anticipated to utilize about $1 million of surtax funds if approved by the county. Luckner said if that is not successful, there has not been a clear alternative to fund the idea.
While Luckner said the new roundabouts were an unpopular surprise, she acknowledged the importance of safety implementations on the island. She said traffic and safety has been a major concern, but the solutions presented have not seemed successful.
“There’s a regular signal light at Midnight Pass and Higel Avenue, that was not always there,” Luckner said. “I think there were six deaths before FDOT agreed that it needed attention. I remember how scary that was, before the light was there.”
Luckner also said roundabouts could be useful, just not in the locations that have been proposed. She suggested placing a roundabout near beach access parking lots, because the current design does not allow for people to turn around when they notice no spots are available.
Additionally, she said it has been difficult for people to exit the beach parking lots. With a roundabout, those leaving the beach would no longer have to wait for an opportunity to turn out, because the roundabout would maintain the flow of traffic from each direction.
“I wanted to say hold on, how can these new roundabouts be discussed as if they are a done deal,” Luckner said. “We spent an awful lot of focus on these things and it kind of took the attention away from the rest of our meeting’s budget. By the end of it, many of our residents seemed to give Spencer a hard time.”
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