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The long road ahead

It just so happens we’re living here when the 50-year-old roads and bridges need updating. Still better than New York.

  • Longboat Key
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Longboat Key Commissioner BJ Bishop asked a great question at a recent Town Commission meeting on the topic of the impending roundabout construction at Gulfstream Avenue and U.S. 41:

“At what volume of traffic do these roundabouts get a failing grade? When we look at the density that’s being created on 41 in terms of apartments being built and the continued density of volume, I would imagine that you’re going to face a failure of traffic in these roundabouts at some point.

“What volume of traffic is going to make these no longer functional?”

It won’t take much more. That’s judging from the fiascoes we’ve seen recently along the stretch of what should be dubbed the Tom Barwin Tamiami Trail Memorial Traffic Calming Roundabout Nightmare.

That’s the stretch of U.S. 41 from Gulfstream Avenue north to the 14th Street/U.S. 41 roundabout.

Welcome to the reality of life for the next three to five years as a full- or part-time resident of the Keys. Knowing how most island residents can’t avoid leaving their key for various acts of life — shopping, dining, plays, operas, work, doctor appointments, flights, etc. — we’re all going to have to get used to it and grimace and bear it.

It’s not just the Gulfstream/41 roundabout. We’re going to get hit at both ends. Around 2024, we can expect the Florida Department of Transportation to begin construction on replacing the Longboat Pass Bridge on the north end.

Timing is everything, as they say. And it just so happens we’re all here when the roads and bridges that were built 50 years ago are either worn out or not suitable to handle the load and need to be replaced or altered.

Or you could also say we happen to be here when every city manager and urban planner’s dream is to turn their cities into bikeable, walkable wonderlands. At least that was the idea along U.S. 41.   

We remember when former Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin was one of the leading acolytes of installing roundabouts on U.S. 41 as a way to create that  utopian vision of a pedestrian-friendly Sarasota. The roundabouts would be traffic calming — slowing down motorists to 20 and 25 mph, so pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists alike could take in the scenic views of Sarasota Bay. And there would be peace, love and ecology.

But if you’ve had the experiences of navigating this necklace of three roundabouts in recent weeks, it’s comical, as well as dangerous and high anxiety at times. Bishop’s comments about “no longer functional” with higher volumes of traffic come to mind.

Traffic calming? Ha! Surely, you’ve seen drivers gunning and cutting to make the Fruitville Road westbound lane. Or how about the poor saps heading south on U.S. 41, only to be bottled up at the Fruitville roundabout by motorists exiting Fruitville and heading to the Keys. It reminds us of the way it used to be with traffic lights.

Try as you might to calm traffic. People are always in a hurry. And from the looks of it so far, you would have to be one heck of a salesperson to convince anyone that the roundabouts have improved our quality of life.

Maybe this will help: Keep your perspective. When you’re weaving through a roundabout, just think of New York, Boston, LA, Miami, Atlanta, Chicago.

You could be there.



Matt Walsh

Matt Walsh is the CEO and founder of Observer Media Group.

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