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Traffic circle shift show can only get better, right?

A Longboater’s weeklong diary detailing the new traffic pattern at Gulfstream and US 41.

As an Observer staffer put it, running from Longboat to the mainland likely would have been faster than driving.
As an Observer staffer put it, running from Longboat to the mainland likely would have been faster than driving.
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In another episode of Sarasota’s saga with roundabouts, we have our best (or worst) installment yet with the construction of the Gulfstream and US 41 roundabout.

Voted for approval by the City Commission years ago, this particular roundabout has been long dreaded, especially among  Longboat Key and the barrier island residents.

We’ve been reporting and writing about roundabouts at the Observer since 2009 when we sent then-City Editor Robin Roy to Carmel, Ind., to study how traffic worked in the city that had just completed 42 roundabouts and was constructing or designing 33 more at the time.

Emily Walsh
Emily Walsh

Also, as someone whose commute includes the two roundabouts on Ringling Boulevard and Palm and Orange avenues and sees at least one person a week literally drive over the roundabout (no joke), I kept wondering: How the heck is this going to work?

Here is the answer. The results of my dealings with the new roundabout construction over the past week might surprise you:

8:54 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 17 — Holy shift! Commute time: 60 minutes

As approaching a traffic standstill heading east on John Ringling Boulevard and Bird Key Drive, I realize, this is it. It’s the new traffic shift.

Finally, after inching over the Ringling Bridge, I get a glimpse of what’s going on. This looks scarier than the Diverging Diamond at University Boulevard and Interstate 75.

It’s finally my turn to go … WHEEE, here we go! Whoa, I’m dizzy. I feel like I’m on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Walt Disney World.

Where am I crisscrossing now? Wait, is this Great Britain? Why are we driving on the left-hand side of the road? So confused. OK. I’ve been spit out onto Bayfront Drive on one lane. I know where I’m going now.

11:45 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 17 — Post the news

Deputy Managing Editor David Conway posts a news story alerting readers that the US 41 roundabout construction is causing traffic delays near Ringling Causeway. The story includes a map from the FDOT that looks like a spaghetti model for hurricanes.

1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 17 — Too soon

The city of Sarasota posts on its Facebook page that it is looking for artists to create an outdoor landmark sculpture for the US 41/Fruitville Road roundabout. Nice PR stunt to redirect. Too soon.

4:50 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 17 — Will I make it home? Commute time: 30 minutes

Not thinking twice, I leave the office heading west on Ringling Boulevard toward Bayfront Drive. Oh, great. Another standstill. We’re slowly pushed into what seems like a holding cell barricaded by traffic walls over what used to be Unconditional Surrender’s sacred homesite. Again, we’re back in Great Britain on the left side of the road.

Finally, we get to start heading west over the Ringling Bridge, and I am suddenly horrified at what I see. Season traffic headed east into Sarasota backed up almost to New Pass bridge.

But wait, isn’t it August? I won’t even get into the nightmare I encountered on the north end of the island trying to get to a dinner in Bradenton. Ugh. Ugh, and more ugh.

7:15 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 17 — I could’ve run home faster. Commute: 2 hours and 15 minutes

Longboat Observer Staff Writer Mark Bergin reports he was stuck in traffic for two hours and 15 minutes after leaving Longboat Key Town Hall. Typically it would take him 20-30 minutes to get to his home adjacent to downtown Sarasota.

Bergin: “This is not an exaggeration: Yesterday, I could have run or biked home faster than waiting in traffic.” And probably a lot less heartache.

8:30 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 18 — There’s a lot of cops. Commute time: 30 minutes

More of the same traffic standstill, but it seems to be moving better today. Maybe people decided to stay away. Or maybe it’s all the Sarasota police helping to direct traffic.

11 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 18 — Newsroom notes

As I recount the last few days of the new roundabout debacle, our entire newsroom stands around our design editor’s desk looking at the FDOT’s map of how this traffic shift works. Executive Editor and COO Kat Hughes exclaims, “It’s like an April Fool’s Day joke!”

She suggests I take a time lapse video on my route home. I’m afraid people might get car sick and throw up from watching it.

5 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 18 — Pro tip: Take Fruitville. Commute time: 20 minutes

After getting advice from a friend (and suggesting I move into the office for the next 100 days), our CFO Laura Strickland tells me that if you’re heading west to Longboat Key, it’s faster to take Fruitville Road than Bayfront Drive. She’s right.

There are no lights on that route, and you merge straight onto the Ringling Bridge. So, remember, if you’re headed out to the beaches, avoid Mound and Bayfront Drive at all costs. Fruitville is your jam … not a traffic jam.

9 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 19 — It’s working. Commute time: 15 minutes

I can’t believe it. Either people are avoiding the area all together, or they are getting used to it. But I just experienced my fastest commute time ever.

9 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 21 — Oh shift, it has happened again. Commute time: 12 minutes

What’s happening now? There’s a new shift. Hallelujah you can turn left onto Golden Gate Point now. And if you’re traveling north on U.S. 41, you can U-turn right before Golden Gate Point instead of having to go over the Ringling Bridge and U-turning at Bird Key Drive. Another great find is the opening in the traffic circle headed north at Gulfstream that spits you right into downtown. That’s clear, right? Nope, because it’s still confusing.

8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 24 — What a difference a week makes. Commute time: 11 minutes

Ok, I’m going to say it: This traffic shift might actually be a good thing. We made it to school drop-off at Sarasota School of Arts & Sciences in record time. I think we’ll be just fine for the next 93 days.






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