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Our View: Traffic talk is cheap

  • Longboat Key
  • Opinion
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And once again, the city of Sarasota and Bradenton Beach do nothing.

We’re referring, of course, to traffic, the slow-moving lines that snake from the Cortez Bridge and Bridge Street Circle all the way south of Broadway on north Gulf of Mexico Drive; and from U.S. 41 and the Ringling Bridge all the way back to St. Armands Circle.

And then there are the occasional backups at the City Island-Longboat Pass Bridge stoplight, which then stacks up traffic far beyond the stoplight at Gulf of Mexico Drive and Longboat Club Road.

It’s “season,” yes. Year-round residents expect the backups. They’re as predictable as the migration of Canada geese.

Except this year, the backups began early — in December.

They were to be expected. Last winter was rough up north. And when that occurs, the flocks of snowbirds are thicker the following season.

We should have been ready. But nothing ever changes. We go through this every year. Those who can take steps to mitigate the traffic backups do nothing.

Compared to, say, Miami, Orlando, New York, Atlanta or Los Angeles, the traffic backups here are minor nuisances. Nonetheless, they can, and will, have negative consequences — because they affect the customer experience.

This is what we have pointed out year after year. Visitors go and return to where they have pleasant experiences. If they get held up by bridge traffic every time they drive to the beach and back to the mainland, you can bet they’ll remember that before they book another trip here or think about buying that condo on the Key.

City and traffic officials are likely to say they can’t do anything about the backups; that it’s math and physics — more cars than the roads can accommodate at certain times of the day.

But stop lights and their timing also affect traffic flow. In fact, they tend to exacerbate the problem.

This is where human intervention could have salutary effects. How about traffic cops at the height of the backups?

Indeed, why is it the city of Sarasota can station traffic cops at major stop lights for the annual Fourth of July and Christmas parades downtown? They do this because of the larger than normal amounts of cars.
It should be done during season as well.

At the very least, the elected commissioners and police chiefs of Longboat Key, city of Sarasota and Bradenton Beach should convene and consider the question: What can they do to mitigate the traffic backups at key times during the season and improve the customer experience?

To do nothing once again is abdicating responsibility.

+ Who should be mayor?
Longboat Key’s Town Commission elections in March haven’t garnered the emotions and politicking of previous years — at least not yet. But you can be sure there are at least five, possibly six, of the seven commissioners finding themselves thinking about the election. Not the elections between incumbent Commissioner Phill Younger and former Commissioner Gene Jaleski and between Longboat residents Jack Daly and Larry Grossman. They’re thinking about the election after those — the one in which they elect from among themselves the next Longboat Key mayor.

It will be a big change. Mayor Jim Brown has served four one-year terms as mayor and has reached his term limit. He will leave the commission after serving as one of Longboat Key’s most effective mayors and second-longest serving mayor in town history. The fact his peers re-elected him to that post four times ratifies how they viewed his performance.

Who will be next?

For voters, this decision typically is not that big of an issue. The job is largely ceremonial because of Longboat Key having a commission/town manager form of government. The mayor officially has no more power than his fellow commissioners.

Nonetheless, the mayor can have noticeable influence on what is addressed and how it’s addressed during his term in office. He or she can influence the town’s agenda. What’s more, by the way he conducts commission meetings and participates in public events and with other local governments can affect outcomes.

In other words, it’s good to have a leader. But this leader must have certain qualities: the ability to build consensus when necessary; to be decisive when necessary; to manage and conduct effective and efficient meetings; to maintain composure and humor in difficult or awkward situations (e.g., when commissioners or taxpayers drone on at meetings); to listen; to have a sixth-sense and the temperament to maneuver gracefully, fairly and appropriately around different personalities. And, the respect of his peers. All of this makes a difference in what the Town Commission ultimately accomplishes or doesn’t accomplish.

So you can bet Longboat’s sitting commissioners — who are prohibited from talking to each other outside of commission meetings — are evaluating themselves and which of their colleagues has what it takes to be the next mayor.

As we look at the list — Vice Mayor Jack Duncan and Commissioners Younger, Lynn Larson, Pat Zunz, Terry Gans and Irwin Pastor — obvious candidates would be Vice Mayor Duncan, Younger and Larson, largely because of their seniority and the who’s-next-in-line syndrome. But to their credit, commissioners in recent years have stopped awarding the job on the basis of whose turn it is.

If you go by having the respect and demonstrated temperament, a different list of candidates is likely to emerge — Duncan, Younger, Gans and Pastor. All of them could do the job; the town won’t crumble regardless of who becomes mayor. We just urge the commissioners to think now about their choice. It does make a difference.

+ Comp plan and constitution
You have to applaud Longboat Key Town Commissioner Lynn Larson for her passion. Give her that.
Of all the commissioners over the years who have taken the oath of office to represent the taxpayers, Larson has stayed true to what she was elected to do — represent and watch out for taxpayers.

So we’ll cut her some slack in the wake of her comment that the U.S. Constitution was written in less time than it is taking to rewrite the town’s comprehensive plan.

Ben Franklin wrote the first draft of the Articles of Confederation (later refined to become the Constitution) in 1775. The states didn’t ratify the Articles until 1781. But it did only take from May 1787 (the Constitutional Convention) to Sept. 25, 1787, for the states to adopt the Constitution. It wasn’t fully ratified until June 1788. So let’s say 13 years altogether.

Rewriting Longboat’s comp plan and codes, to some extent, could indeed be taking as long. In 2000, a task force of the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce urged the commission then to rewrite the town’s outmoded codes.

For all those who subscribe to Barack Obama’s ideology of giving more income and unearned benefits to middle- and low-income Americans by confiscating income from those who have more, and for all of those who excoriate those of us who believe laissez-faire capitalism is the most humane and fairest economic system of all, we couldn’t help but share two passages from essays in The Wall Street Journal.
• From “Teach Capitalism to Catholics,” by Tim Busch, CEO of the Pacific Hospitality Group in Irvine, Calif., and a director of Catholic University of America:

“[Capitalism] is also the single most effective means of alleviating poverty. In the past 20 years alone, it has lifted more than a billion people out of extreme poverty, according to the Economist. It is also single-handedly responsible for creating a global two-billion person middle class over the past 300 years.”

• And from “A Modest Uptick in U.S. Economic Freedom,” by Terry Miller of the Heritage Foundation, commenting on the latest results of the 2015 Index of Economic Freedom:

“Countries with higher levels of economic freedom are much richer than lower-scoring countries. Per capita incomes in the freest countries are six to seven times higher than incomes in the least free countries. Better-scoring countries … enjoy lower rates of poverty, better health care and do a better job of protecting the environment.”

Contrast all that with results from, say, socialism, communism, fascism, Islamism, Nazism or Obama-ism. They don’t work. Economic and individual freedom — letting people keep the fruits of their labor and decide how best to use that property — work.



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