- January 5, 2022
Despite strong advocacy from city staff, the City Commission voted Monday to reject a proposal to redesign a segment of Fruitville Road through downtown Sarasota.
The commission voted against producing detailed plans for two different concepts staff developed for the street between U.S. 301 and U.S. 41. Staff endorsed an option that would have added roundabouts to three intersections along the corridor, reducing a section of the road from four lanes to two.
Staff said that design would produce safety improvements while maintaining or improving the flow of traffic, a claim that drew skepticism from the commission.
“I don’t know what you can say to make me believe these numbers are accurate,” Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie said of the data presented at Monday’s meeting.
The city has been working on possibilities for reshaping Fruitville Road since 2015, hoping to better connect downtown to the Rosemary District and Gillespie Park to the north. Staff members advocated for the street-narrowing plan, known as a road diet, because they said it was a better design for an evolving urban environment. Staff also produced a second concept that would have maintained four lanes for the length of the road while still widening sidewalks.
“We have to step back and say: Do we want Fruitville to be a highway, or do we want it to be a city street with more activity?” Assistant City Engineer Daniel Ohrenstein said.
The proposed redesign drew both outspoken support and opposition from speakers in attendance Monday. Critics expressed concern about the potential for gridlock, challenging models city staff presented that showed no negative effects on vehicular capacity.
“It is not an option we think is viable for our region,” said Longboat Key Town Attorney Maggie Mooney, who spoke on behalf of the Longboat Town Commission.
Supporters of the road diet said it would create a better pedestrian experience along a corridor that today isn’t optimally designed to travel on foot. They saw no reason to question staff’s projections associated with the project.
“I don’t think fear of change — and that’s what I see this as, fear of change — should block a significant safety and quality of life improvement for downtown and Rosemary residents,” said David Lyons, a resident of the One Watergate condominium.
Mayor Liz Alpert was the lone advocate for the project on the board, calling it an opportunity to realize the commission’s goals of promoting alternative modes of transportation.
“I think we’re lying to ourselves if we’re saying we want a walkable city and we get an opportunity to do it and don’t take it,” Alpert said.
Although Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown attempted to persuade the commission not to rule out either alternative for redesigning Fruitville Road, the board voted to reject both options.
“This is years out from something happening,” Commissioner Hagen Brody said. “Maybe there’s some point in the future where it is a good idea.”
In a subsequent 3-2 vote, the City Commission directed staff to explore alternatives for widening the sidewalks on Fruitville.