Dozens of citizens and visitors gathered at Payne Park for the opening of Legacy Trail’s Segment 3 last Thursday, which marked the latest effort by both Sarasota County and the city toward multimodal transportation.
Starting at Bahia Vista Street, Segment 3 extends through Payne Park to Fruitville Road. In addition to the opening of Segment 3, a new trailhead at Webber Street, also known as Sarasota Springs, opened on Thursday.
"This is a huge milestone," said Nicole Rissler, the director of Sarasota County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources. "Residents and visitors can now enjoy a continuous paved trail from the Venice Train Depot all the way north to downtown Sarasota. The new Sarasota Springs trailhead includes parking, restrooms, a picnic area and a small playground."
Rissler also announced that construction and improvements are not done, yet. A trailhead will be added at 601 Pompano Ave. in June, which will include 13 lighted pickleball courts, a community room and open space for mobile vendors such as food trucks, to further enhance the trail's experience.
After the completion of the Pompano Trailhead, Rissler said the Legacy Trail will connect to the county fairgrounds and Babe Ruth Baseball Complex. For now though, Rissler expressed her excitement about the opening of Segment 3 which has opened earlier than expected.
"The Sarasota Springs Trailhead and the northern extension of the Legacy Trail is opening two years and nine months earlier than originally planned," Rissler said. "I'd say that's a personal best for anybody running a race."
Rissler, Ziegler and County Commissioner Ron Cutsinger gave brief speeches to the crowd on Thursday before a ribbon-cutting opened the trail to everyone. Citizens took to the trail on foot, bikes and roller-blades shortly after.
Patrick Lui, Sarasota County Public Works’ Transportation Planning Division bicycle, pedestrian and trails coordinator, has worked on comprehensive plans to adapt to citizens’ wants when it comes to outdoor recreation. But he also said bicycles and trails are key to transportation.
“The vision of the residents is to have a network that provides multimodal facilities,” Lui said. “I plan for infrastructure, you know, bike lanes, trails and sidewalks. The other side of it is education. We want people to ride more and know the rules of the road and how to do it safely.”
Lui called the Legacy Trail the backbone of multimodal transportation in Sarasota County. He said the trail’s popularity has grown each year and has created more possibilities as it has extended into more urban areas.
Adding a bifurcated trail, which would separate trail users by pace, is among the plans for Legacy Trail’s most urban stretch. Pedestrian overpasses at Clark Road and Bee Ridge Road are also planned and in the works, according to Lui.
“More and more people are riding bikes or walking for more than just recreation right now,” Lui said. “Now they’re using it as modes of transportation because we’re crossing into zones with employment and schools.
“People have this off-road facility to move north to south for themselves and they are protected from vehicles,” Lui continued. “I think it’s probably changing the way people are moving.”
Construction on the overpasses is expected to begin in 2023, according to Lui. Meanwhile, the North Port Connector, which will connect the current Legacy Trail with the city of North Port, is expected to open this fall.
The Legacy Trail has expanded from north to south and could continue to do so in the future. Expansion to Manatee County, the region and even the state is possible, along with projects to expand it east to west.
“We’re always looking at how to get more people to the facility from a more regional standpoint,” Lui said. “The Sarasota Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization is doing a study to look at the best alignment to connect Sarasota and Manatee County (through the Legacy Trail).”
Alvimarie Corales, city of Sarasota’s transportation planner, formerly worked for Sarasota Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) when the Transportation Master Plan was created, and eventually passed in July 2020. The city, county and MPO worked together to open Segment 3 of Legacy Trail and will work together in future projects.
Corales said the city hopes to extend the trail to the Bobby Jones Golf Course, which could allow for federal funds to be used. She also noted the trail’s value when it comes to providing essential services.
“This trail isn’t just for recreational users,” Corales said. “People going to essential services like food and beverage work, health services like the health department or for veteran’s services. There’s so many connections made through this trail.”
As the Legacy Trail is expected to continue growing, other multimodal transportation projects are expected to link to and complement it. The city is budgeting $6 million of its expected surtax money for an eventual northern extension from Fruitville Road to University Parkway. Corales highlighted the Ringling Boulevard Complete Streets Initiative, which will connect a trail from Lime Avenue, down Ringling to Pineapple Avenue, first with a series of restripings and plastic bollards, then, potentially with more permanent changes to the roadway.
Construction on the Ringling Boulevard Complete Streets Initiative is expected to begin in late March and be completed in the fall. Corales called it a good way to connect trails through all of downtown.
“This will help connect ourselves to the Bayfront area,” Corales said. “And then to all the connections on the islands. It would be going though Ringling, going through St. Armands and going through Longboat Key.”
The Legacy Trail was created for cyclists, roller-bladers and those who travel on foot, but the trail could see electronic scooters and bikes in near future. While there is disagreement on whether the vehicles should be allowed on Legacy Trail, a new electronic scooter and bike program will begin in late March.
Vio, an electronic scooter company, has partnered with Sarasota for the program. St. Petersburg has already used Vio’s bikes and scooters and have had success with them, according to Commissioner Hagen Brody.
“I’m excited about the new scooters and our multimodal focus,” Brody said. “I don’t have a problem with electric bikes or scooters because that just means there’s fewer cars on the road and the hope is to get more people out of cars.”