In what was a generally genial discussion last week, leaders from Sarasota and Longboat Key met to pick through topics applicable to both of their communities.
There was a lot of talk about transportation.
The two municipalities looked into the Barrier Island Traffic Study, which has been in the works for almost two years. Two out of three phases have been completed, and phase three — implementation — is just starting.
Longboat Key Public Works Director Isaac Brownman presented several phase two recommendations from the study that the town approved of. Sarasota officials were particularly supportive of some of the recommendations: one mid-term plan – water shuttles traveling to and from Sarasota and the barrier islands – and one short-term plan – implementing crossing guards at St. Armands Circle.
While phase two of the study rendered around 60 recommendations, Brownman and the town want to work together with the Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Florida Department of Transportation and The City of Sarasota on the following specific initiatives:
- Stationing pedestrian control officers at St. Armands Circle during busy season. The idea here is to group pedestrians together to cross, rather than forcing traffic to frequently stop for small numbers crossing randomly.
- Ridding parking spaces that interfere with intersection traffic flows
- Water shuttles. Brownman said a developer on Longboat Key is looking at a potential water shuttle solution.
- Ringling Parkway counter-flow (would only be in-season), to convert a lane to flow opposite of its normal direction during traffic peaks.
- More information on wayfinding and availability for parking
- Additional lane(s) in the event of bridge replacements (with Coon Key Bridge in mind)
- Elevated crossings for pedestrians on U.S. 41 Ringling Boulevard and Fruitville Road
Longboat and Sarasota’s agendas overlapped with water shuttles/taxis. Sarasota city planners mentioned a water taxi feasibility study that’s currently underway to better connect the city with the barrier islands. Mayor George Spoll said that it’s difficult for Longboat Key because people would need an area to park their cars, “and I don’t envision Bayfront Park being filled with commuters to downtown Sarasota.”
Spoll was more supportive of a car-ferry option because it brings both people and their mode of transportation across the bay, though dock and other infrastructure would need to be built.
Longboat and Sarasota disagreed on plenty as well. Longboat pushed back against the proposition of installing speed tables at St. Armands Circle.
Roundabouts ruled the day at the joint meeting. Longboat leaders chafed at the planned Gulfstream roundabout in particular because, they noted, traffic is flowing remarkably well since a right-turn slip lane was added to the Ringling Boulevard/Tamiami Trail intersection.
“Your hurry to build that roundabout, in my book, is a terrible mistake and dangerous to our community,” Spoll said. “In case anybody wonders how I feel.”
Sarasota Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch did not go as far as Spoll, but she did express trepidation because an FDOT study approximated traffic flow would improve 11 percent.
“If we’re gonna go through the cost, if we’re gonna go through the time, if we’re gonna go through the construction, and we as elected officials are going to try to talk people into, ‘This is going to be great,’ I think that number should be a little bit better than 11 percent,” Ahearn-Koch said.
City planners defended this specific roundabout, saying it would be safer for cyclists and pedestrians and, because it doesn’t contain a stoplight, traffic would ultimately flow better.
Tom Barwin, Sarasota’s city manager, acknowledged that the building of the Gulfstream roundabout may be costly and troublesome, but he extolled the project for its new formation as a three-point circle instead of a four-point circle while promising smoother traffic flow in the future.
The Gulfstream roundabout is set to start construction in late 2020.
"Your hurry to build that roundabout, in my book, is a terrible mistake and dangerous to our community." – George Spoll
Longboat and Sarasota leaders didn’t have much of a problem with the other eight U.S. 41 roundabouts that Sarasota city planners discussed as in motion or planned.
Longboat Town Manager Tom Harmer highlighted that this was – probably – the first time the town and the city had met in a joint session. Barwin and Harmer both said they hope to work closer together on regional policy issues.