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Sarasota Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019 2 months ago

Siesta residents raise traffic concerns over Breeze

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Frequent stops annoy some drivers, but business and transportation leaders say trolley's effect on traffic numbers outweigh occasional delays.
by: Samantha Chaney Staff Writer

The Siesta Key Breeze Trolley began running in 2017 with the goal of smoothing traffic along Siesta Key’s busy roads. In its first two years, the Breeze has been considered a success, providing free rides between the south to north ends of the Key, often serving thousands of riders a day.

Transportation and business leaders say the trolley makes a difference daily with the cars it replaces on the road. Some residents, though, say its popularity with visitors on the Key’s often well-traveled streets creates a problem out of its own success.

Bill Kamm, a full-time resident of Siesta Key, said he appreciates the trolley service but feels it slows traffic with its frequent, and sometimes extended, stops. Several other residents expressed similar frustrations but didn’t want to be interviewed for publication.

“It’s maybe about a mile, mile and half at most to Stickney Point,” he said of the distance from the light at Beach Road to the next big intersection to the south. “And each time we drive, it’s taken 15 to 25 minutes. And it was always because we were driving behind the Breeze.”

Pamela Kamm, Bill’s wife, said she’s not even sure it’s OK to pass a stopped Breeze bus, particularly when riders are waiting for friends and family to arrive at the stop or as they gather their belongings on board to disembark. For the record, Breeze driver Michael Toro says no passing is allowed for safety reasons.

Christina Gilbert and Mike Gilbert, visiting Siesta Key from Indiana, enjoy riding the Breeze.

The trolley, actually a bus built to look like an old-fashioned streetcar, trundles between Turtle Beach and Siesta Village between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday and extends its hours to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Between Stickney Point Road and Turtle Beach, riders can hail the Breeze anywhere they wish. Sarasota County Area Transit stops elsewhere operate conventionally.

“I think the Breeze overall is a great idea for transportation,” Kamm said. “Getting people out of their cars is great. I think, probably the issue is the way that Midnight Pass Road is designed with one lane in either direction.

Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce Chairman Eric Fleming said he understands the frustration of delayed drivers, but the Breeze is ultimately beneficial.

“There were 250,000 rides in the first year, which exceeded everybody’s expectations and showed that there was a true need for the trolley,” he said. “And with 250,000 riders, there’s a lot fewer cars on the road. Fewer cars, less traffic. It might stop more frequently than people would like, but most of those stops are on-demand … So, yes, we’ve got a lot of stops, but they’re needed.”

The Siesta Key Breeze allows passengers to board at the Siesta Village.

Visitor Mike Gilbert, vacationing from Indiana recently, said he’s in no hurry. “The traffic is slow whether the trolley is involved or not,” he said. “You just have to be patient.”

SCAT said 73,000 riders boarded the Breeze between December 2018 and January 2019. SCAT spokeswoman Lisa Potts said the agency is aware of residents’ concerns about the service and its effect on traffic, but the focus is on keeping as many cars off the road as possible.

“Everybody is happy with [the trolley],” said Toro, who has driven the route since its inception. “When we weren’t here, they would have to drive to the Village and get their car towed when they have no place to park. If they want to go on Sunday to the beach, there’s no place to park. How are they going to go there? This is so convenient for people.”

 

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