FDOT pitches new crosswalk proposals for Longboat Key's main road
Proposal calls for replacing two yellow-light signals with red-light signals.
| 2:20 p.m. February 24, 2022
Pedestrians heading from one side of Gulf of Mexico Drive to the other at the island’s three most-used crosswalks will do so with the benefit of two new-to-the-town lighting systems to alert drivers.
But they might not be able to push a button to activate red flashing lights near Country Club Shores and Bayfront Park or an array of roadside and in-roadway lights north of Broadway Street until 2024, Florida Department of Transportation staffers told the town.
While the safety upgrades were welcomed, Town Commissioner BJ Bishop questioned the timing — 525 days after the design-build contract is signed in June.
"It seems a little incredulous to me that we’re looking at a year-and-a-half time frame," she said. “Knowing the fact we have had deaths on this island because of people crossing in unsafe locations, I would say please do something to expedite this timeline. How many people have to die before we can expedite it?”
FDOT and the town since 2016 have been working together on where and how to funnel pedestrians across the two- and three-lane thoroughfare of 45 mph and 35 mph speed limits. Even now, complaints about locations still exist, particularly mid-island where some crossings don’t connect readily to sidewalks or destinations of pedestrian interest and other sites where pedestrians often cross unprotected.
Following on to FDOT’s original six crosswalks equipped with so-called rectangular-rapid flashing beacons, FDOT last year proposed eight more such devices, sprinkled from Neptune Drive to Broadway Street.
But a recent state-level change in late 2021 to its governing Traffic Engineering Manual now disallows such crossings in speed zones exceeding 35 mph. All but one of the eight proposed new sites fall into the faster-speed zones, which render them ineligible.
"We attempted to get a variance to allow these RRFBs to be installed within this 45 mph zone. However, that variance was denied," said Walter Breuggeman, an engineer with FDOT’s local traffic operations district. "So where do go and how do we pivot from there?"
The answer comes in the form of a crossing-alert system familiar to many who drive along Sarasota’s bayfront. Once referred to as a HAWK system, the array of red-flashing lights found on Tamiami Trail near First Street is now called a pedestrian-hybrid beacon.
FDOT now proposes replacing the crossings at Longboat Key Club Road and at Bayfront Park with those style of alert systems. Although not technically part of the same project, the FDOT engineer also recommended adding in-roadway flashing beacons to the crossing north of Broadway Street near North Shore Drive because it falls in one of the town’s 35 mph zones.
Breuggeman said the town’s existing on-demand crossing locations will remain for now, even though they no longer conform to state-highway standards.
Breuggeman added that five of the locations once proposed for new crosswalks are slated to receive new street lights as part of the town’s underground utilities work. "Lighting there could very well improve safety," he said, adding that about 75% of pedestrian-involved fatalities take place at night.
"With a lot of your pedestrians using the beach and crossing back after sunset, it’s a concern that overhead lighting is critical," Breuggeman said.
On a spectrum of pedestrian-crossing warning systems, traffic lights sit at the top of the hierarchy, with pedestrian-hybrid beacons falling just below. Systems like the flashing yellow lights, which are only now allowed in speed zones of 35 mph or less, fall even further down the hierarchy with few options bridging the gap.
"There’s not too many opportunities there between those two treatments," said John Kubicki, a staff planner with FDOT, adding the state was working on some new mid-block crossing warning systems, though they are still considered experimental and not ready for service.
Breuggeman said because the North Shore Road crossing update project is separate from the project to update the crossings near Country Club Shores and Bayfront Park, it would be hard to determine which will be completed first. Additional work by FDOT is extending north from Longboat Key into Bradenton Beach, as well.
Breuggeman told commissioners too that moving any of the existing crosswalks to more desirable locations wouldn’t work because they mostly would be still located in a 45-mph zone and disallowed, adding that improved nighttime lighting will add to safety.
"Sounds like we’re improving the three busiest ones," Commissioner Maureen Merrigan said.