The city and state’s vision for the future of Fruitville Road west of U.S. 301 calls for narrower travel lanes, wider sidewalks and redesigned intersections to create an improved pedestrian experience.
The City Commission voted 5-0 Monday to support the Florida Department of Transportation’s corridor vision for Fruitville Road between Interstate 75 and U.S. 301. Although staff said the changes outlined in the vision may not be implemented for 20 years, officials said it was important to buy into a plan now so the city and state are prepared when opportunities for aligned projects arise.
“As anything [on Fruitville] gets changed, we’re incorporating [the vision] into it,” Commissioner Liz Alpert said.
FDOT began the process of developing a corridor vision for Fruitville in 2019, identifying the state road as a thoroughfare that could see its character evolve over the next several decades. On Fruitville, planners see a shift from a car-centric road connecting the city center and the interstate to a more urbanized corridor with increasing pedestrian usage.
Based on public input gathered in surveys and meetings last year, those who engaged with the state planning process said they prioritized safety, slower vehicle speeds and improved pedestrian access on Fruitville. Bessie Reina, FDOT planning studio manager, shared a concept design for the corridor that eliminated a foot from travel lanes and removed bike paths to widen sidewalks from 5 feet to 10 feet.
As an interim step prior to more major construction, Reina said the city and state could consider widening the existing bike path from 4.5 feet to 7 feet during an upcoming road repaving. Reina said a repaving could take place in 7 to 10 years.
Commissioner Liz Alpert questioned why the state was recommending removing the bike path in favor of a wider sidewalk that pedestrians and cyclists could share. Reina acknowledged that some cyclists favor an unprotected bike lane to a shared-use trail, but she felt the recommended vision was the best option for serving Sarasota residents with the space available.
“Given limited right of way, one thing we’re considering is the most common users of our facilities, and are we meeting their needs?” Reina said. “A lot of the feedback we got early on was about children, elderly residents — do they feel comfortable using that bike lane? We heard ‘No.’”
Reina encouraged the city to incorporate the vision for Fruitville Road into its planning documents, including potentially establishing an overlay district that encouraged more intense uses while preserving the frontage needed to widen sidewalks. Reina also highlighted other changes under consideration as part of the vision, including creating protected intersections at Fruitville’s intersections with Beneva Road and Honore Road.
Last year, following a workshop associated with the Fruitville visioning process, city staff said it was working to align its future plans with the concepts FDOT was proposing. Planning Director Steve Cover suggested zoning rules that encouraged a mixture of residential and commercial redevelopment along the corridor could create a new demand for public transportation service.
“I think over time, you are going to see some uses we’ll eventually be locating along these corridors that are more conducive to transit,” Cover said in a previous interview with the Sarasota Observer.
Despite questions about the elimination of bike lanes, the commission was unanimous in its decision to endorse the vision the state presented.
“Obviously, you’d like to accommodate everyone, but I think it’s a fine plan given our constrictions,” Brody said.