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Town leaders drive home point about Sarasota traffic plan

Longboat mayor makes clear town's objections to Sarasota's multi-modal (and now rejected) transportation master plan.

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  • | 7:00 p.m. July 20, 2020
  • Longboat Key
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Longboat Key leaders weren't the only ones dissatisfied with Sarasota's latest transportation master plan. 

Add a majority of Sarasota leaders to that list. 

The Sarasota In Motion plan, which town leaders said was yet another example of an inland city making traffic decisions that may adversely affect the barrier islands, was rejected Monday night 3-2. Sarasota commissioners instead decided to stick with the city's current transportation vision and funding plan. 

For years, Longboat leaders have cried foul over mainland-sourced road projects prompted barrier island gridlock or threatened to impede traffic to and from the beachside. Since the new year, then-Mayor George Spoll, new Vice Mayor Mike Haycock and Mayor Ken Schneier have written directly to Sarasota leadership, asking for a broader look at traffic rather than focusing inside city limits.

 “On behalf of the town of Longboat Key, we respect the effort that has been put into the Sarasota In Motion plan and understand the emphasis in that plan on pedestrian, bicycle and other non-auto transportation for the city’s future as the plan is fleshed out and implemented,” Schneier wrote. “However, we strongly hope that the city recognizes and embraces a central role in the region as a primary corridor for transit to and from Longboat Key and the other barrier islands, some of which are within your borders.”

Schneier’s letter asked for Sarasota city commissioners to place a greater emphasis on four key priorities:

  • Preservation of the number, width and capacity of lanes on the routes comprising the barrier islands' ingress, egress, and evacuation corridor, including Tamiami Trail and Fruitville Road.
  • Intense and continued focus on seasonal traffic congestion from the barrier islands to downtown, including measurement metrics, with the goal of reducing traffic times.
  • Planning and implementation of alternative modes of transportation to the barrier islands in conjunction with Sarasota County, FDOT and the island communities, including water taxis, cable cars, improved mass transit, and alternate and counterflow lanes.
  • Adoption of specific, recommended measures to mitigate bottlenecks by, for example, annually employing crossing guards at St. Armands Circle through season (Christmas- Easter), removing obstructive parking slots and calming devices (St. Armands), constructing pedestrian overpasses (U.S. 41) and improving signal traffic flow (Ken Thompson Parkway).

Schneier wrote that his recommendations are consistent with the Barrier Island Transportation Study and under consideration by the Metro Planning Organization.

The top 10 projects in the Sarasota in Motion plan include expanding a city trail network, streetscapes for the east-west corridors, working on the North Legacy Trial, completing Shade Avenue, core route transit improvements, a Cocoanut Avenue and 2nd Street roundabout, completing Fruitville Road rountabout, redesigning Main Street, working on the John Ringling Causeway and Coon Key bridges and completing the streetscape at Boulevard of the Arts.

Schneier’s letter also addressed the town’s concerns about the roundabout improvements planned for Gulfstream Avenue and U.S. 41.

“Recent correspondence from the City staff stated that the ‘roundabout at Gulfstream Avenue will provide a 29% reduction in overall intersection delay during the February peak hour and a 41% reduction in overall intersection delay during the March peak hour,’” Schneier wrote. “We hope that is not being too optimistic and that, if a roundabout is ultimately constructed at that intersection, there is a process in place to monitor and quantify the impacts.”

Haycock wrote about a month ago, that he believed the city’s plan did not provide enough consideration for people living in the surrounding areas outside of the city of Sarasota, which includes the barrier islands of Longboat Key, Lido Key, Lido Shores and St. Armands. He also believes the plan focuses too much on bike and pedestrian paths, and not enough on cars and gridlock during rush hour.

Public records show the town paid $3,649.65 earlier this year to Tampa-based attorney David Smolker to begin researching the basis of a lawsuit “regarding [a] transportation dispute with the City of Sarasota.”

Longboat Key commissioners have also debated how to address beach traffic woes on the north end of the island. A presentation made to the Barrier Island Traffic Study steering committee in September 2019 labeled Gulf Drive from the Longboat Pass Bridge to Cortez Road the slowest in a comparison of height-of-the-season travel speeds.

As far as entry from the south end of Longboat Key, a survey conducted by the city of Sarasota found people want to use other modes of transportation in the future — walking, biking or using public transit — instead of traveling by car.

Sarasota City Commission Hagen Brody said he did not believe the results of the survey accurately depicted the community’s wants and needs.

“I’m totally sick of the surveys that are unscientific that are crafted to get a specific result that we see time and time again,” Brody said. “There are polls and companies that conduct scientific polls that actually give you real data from a cross-section of the community, not just those that you choose to participate with or that show up. And so that data — to me — is unreliable.”

Plus, a study by Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition found the Bradenton-Sarasota-North Port metro area ranked as the fourth deadliest for walking in the U.S.

On Monday, Sarasota city commissioners also discussed the possibility of adding a trolley system from downtown Sarasota to St. Armands Circle. They also discussed a water taxi from downtown Sarasota out to the barrier islands. It remains unclear how either a trolley or water taxi would be financed.

Sarasota commissioners also brought up the likelihood of having to repave the John Ringling Bridge before the city could implement any kind of trolley system.


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