In his eight years on Longboat Key, Police Chief Pete Cumming said an island traffic problem has never caused a backup.
“The bottlenecks are occurring at both ends,” he said.
Nearly 5 million vehicles – 4,846,343 to be exact – traversed the roughly 11-mile long island in 2014, using the most recent traffic statistics available. Longboat Key traffic on Gulf of Mexico Drive peaked at an estimated 559,289 vehicles in April 2014.
That’s a lot of vehicles drawn to the white-sand beaches on Longboat Key – a town of 8,000 year-round residents.
GMD, also referred to as State Road 789, is the only main thoroughfare running north and south through the island connecting it with St. Armands on Lido Key to the south and Coquina Beach on Anna Maria Island to the north.
Drawbridges bracket Longboat Key with New Pass Bridge linking it with Lido Key to the south and Longboat Pass Bridge connecting to Anna Maria Island.
The 2014 count illustrates the number of times a license plate tag was captured coming on and going off the island by north and south cameras on GMD.
Theoretically, if a vehicle entered the island from the north bridge and exited on the south bridge minutes later, the cameras would register twice.
While traffic complaints have mounted in recent years, there are no new traffic counts for 2015 and 2016, according to Cumming.
“The last full-year count I had put together was 2014,” Cumming said this week.
Longboat Key Police Department stopped using license plate readers to estimate traffic because computer crashes, lightning strikes and other inherent inefficiencies – plate numbers the computer could not read due to weather or other conditions were not counted – made the numbers less reliable.
“This system isn’t designed to provide an actual count of vehicles passing the field,” Cumming said. “However, there’s no reason to believe the count would be meaningfully different.”
The license plate readers were not designed to compile traffic statistics, noted Deputy Chief Frank Rubino.
“They weren’t meant for a traffic count,” Rubino said. “They were meant for public safety.”
The LBKPD does have advice for motorists dreading the approach of Snowbird season when the island population swells to an estimated 20,000.
Rubino said his 35-minute drive home can take as long as two hours during season. He advises preparing for it with good music and audio books.
“You just have to sit there,” he said. “There’s nothing you can do. It’s part of doing business on the island.”