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Try a Fruitville overpass

Sarasota city officials are stuck on narrowing Fruitville Road, seemingly ignoring the road is a major east-west artery. Surely there are creative alternatives. How about a charrette?

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  • | 8:00 a.m. April 6, 2017
One proposal calls for reducing Fruitville to a two-lane road between Lemon and Cocoanut avenues, with roundabouts at those two intersections as well as at Central Avenue.
One proposal calls for reducing Fruitville to a two-lane road between Lemon and Cocoanut avenues, with roundabouts at those two intersections as well as at Central Avenue.
  • Longboat Key
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When three Sarasota city officials addressed last week the Longboat Key Town Commission on the city’s traffic plans near downtown, the city officials repeated what they have been saying for months.

Here are their options, they told the commissioners:

  • Reducing Fruitville to a two-lane road between Lemon and Cocoanut avenues, with roundabouts at those two intersections as well as at Central Avenue. Bicycle lanes would be removed, and sidewalks would be widened to 16 feet along the three-intersection stretch. 
  • The other alternative includes widening sidewalks to 10 feet and removing bike lanes.

That was it. No other options.

The message from Sarasota City Hall has been clear and consistent. It’s not about moving cars efficiently. City Manager Tom Barwin and Sarasota city commissioners have one vision: They want slow-rolling traffic weaving through downtown roundabouts in an urban setting that embraces and emphasizes pedestrians and bicycles. 

It’s not about the automobiles and trucks on the roads that far, far outnumber the pedestrians — and will still far, far outnumber the pedestrians even with wider sidewalks and bike lanes. They are stuck on this idea of the future whereby the occupants of all the new apartments and condominiums north of Fruitville will be hip urbanites who will leave their Priuses parked and walk every day across Fruitville Road to go to and from their apartments to Main Street.

Never mind the fact that Fruitville Road is the main transportation artery for the commercial vehicles and residents of more than 12,000 housing units on the barrier islands who travel regularly to Interstate 75. Or who will count on Fruitville Road for an evacuation route.

The apparent intransigence at Sarasota City Hall and its lack of creative, problem-solving efforts with the Florida Department of Transportation are remarkable. For two years now, to little avail, barrier island residents and businesses, as well as downtown residents and businesses, have harped on the coming traffic tsunami.

As a Sarasota city resident lamented to us recently: “I can’t even imagine how this is going to work at Fruitville and U.S. 41 and at the Ringling Bridge and Gulfstream when you have only one entrance off of 41 to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, to the Ritz Towers, The Vue and the Westin Hotel.” Add to that the planned tower to the north of The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota and the development of the Quay property, as well as the installation of two two-lane roundabouts and the narrowing of Fruitville Road.

Yes, how is that going to work?

It’s difficult to imagine that it will be pleasant.

Are there alternatives?

One, of course, is to do nothing. But it’s difficult to say what would be worse — that or the city’s roundabout-narrowing Fruitville plan.

Another alternative: An overpass — one that would go over the 41-Gulfstream intersection and curve north, connecting to Fruitville. Erect the overpass for traffic going both ways — east on Fruitville to the barrier islands and west to connect with Fruitville Road. Create a nonstop overpass.

You can envision exit ramps at the east end of Fruitville allowing motorists to go north or south on U.S. 41, and an exit ramp at the intersection of Gulfstream and 41, allowing motorists to go north or south on 41.

Instead of slowing traffic on Fruitville, build pedestrian overpasses, with escalator stairs. Or build pedestrian tunnels underneath Fruitville. These would create obvious problems of becoming homes for the homeless and magnets for crime.

Perhaps these are impractical ideas. But the larger point is this: Before the city moves ahead with installing its two-lane roundabouts and narrowing Fruitville, you would think its leaders would have the smarts to engage its constituents and actually practice government by the people, not government by the bureaucrats.

When talk began of replacing the rickety drawbridge that was the Ringling Bridge, the then-City Commission at least conducted numerous charrettes to obtain public comment on how a future bridge should look. And when the city decided it is time to redevelop the property surrounding the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, volunteer representatives of Bayfront 20:20 conducted dozens of town hall meetings to hear what residents want that 40 acres to be.

For an issue that has become as contentious as replacing the Ringling Bridge and that affects just as many people as a new Ringling Bridge, you would think the commissioners and administration in Sarasota City Hall would do more to explore other options than the two that only a few walkers, a few cyclists and Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin like.


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