Rod Warner, a leading advocate for roundabouts in Sarasota, died Thursday. He was 79.
Warner was the founder of U.S. 41 Momentum, a group focused on establishing a series of roundabouts along the state highway and elsewhere in the area. Since the early 2000s, Sarasota has evolved from a roundabout-shy town to one that embraces the roadway-engineering tool, and city leaders credit Warner with helping to change attitudes.
“I will never look at another roundabout without thinking of Rod,” Vice Mayor Suzanne Atwell said in an email to city officials. “From the beginning, he had the ability, the knowledge, and above all the gentle temperament to educate our community and help them feel safe about change.”
Despite his initial lack of background in the field — he worked in the media industry — Warner called himself a roundabout evangelist, extolling virtues such as improved safety, reduced congestion and better environmental health. His interest began with his role on the Citizen Advisory Committee of the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization, and eventually began to expand as he learned more.
Alongside U.S. 41 Momentum members Roger Barry, Ron McCollough and David Morriss, Warner envisioned a corridor with 11 roundabouts on the state highway from University Boulevard to Orange Avenue. If handled properly — with artwork in the centers of the roundabouts — Warner believed the corridor could be a local icon on par with the bayfront or the John Ringling Causeway bridge.
“That would be our new view,” Warner said in a 2013 interview with the Sarasota Observer. “Now that would make an impression.”
"I will never look at another roundabout without thinking of Rod." — Suzanne Atwell
Roundabouts, once a hotly contested proposition in Sarasota, still have their critics even as they grow in popularity. McCollough said Warner’s ability to get along with people on the opposing side of an issue — even as he worked stridently to change their opinions — was an important tool as the group met with local leaders.
“He was a person who could work well with anyone, even those who maybe disagreed with him,” McCollough said.
The city is currently working toward making Warner’s vision a reality. Two roundabouts at 10th and 14th streets, currently in development, serve as the first step toward a planned system of roundabouts along U.S. 41.
Originally from Jackson, Ohio, Warner moved to Sarasota in 1977. Although the move was career-related, he was quick to embrace his new home. Warner’s son, Ty Warner, said his father loved Sarasota and was happy to work toward making the city a better place.
“The more time he spent here, the more he came to appreciate what's going on here,” Ty Warner said. “I think he always appreciated the huge range of people that he was able to meet and interact with.”
In addition to his roundabout work, Rod Warner was also an active member of the First United Methodist Church, serving as the church's communications liason. Following a funeral in Jackson, Ohio, this weekend, a memorial service is planned at First Church sometime in the near future, Ty Warner said.
As work continues on improving Sarasota’s transportation network, the focus on roundabouts serves as a testament to Rod Warner’s dedication to improving the community in which he lived.
“The mark of any success he brought to the table was that the improvements being made in Sarasota were not just limited to just one guy,” Ty Warner said. “He would have been successful if it keeps on going without him — I think that's how he would have seen it”