Longboat Key's Complete Streets proposal is a road to the future for main thoroughfare
Concepts under development now would guide a makeover of the town's main north-south artery.
| 2:21 p.m. March 21, 2022
For now, they're simply images that tell a digital story of how Gulf of Mexico Drive might someday look.
They show cars of undetermined make and model heading north and south.
They show people with baby carriages, on bicycles or strolling with friends along a multiuse trail on the east side of the highway. Others, on the west side, make their way along a narrower sidewalk.
They show medians with palm trees and switchback crosswalks. Road shoulders are landscaped. Bike lanes feature a buffer between cyclists and drivers, marked with double lines and reflectors to raise visibility and driver awareness.
All of them show an idealized version of Gulf of Mexico Drive in the future. And although none of it is real yet, neither is it fantasy.
It's a vision, created by the engineering firm of Kimley-Horn, to help illustrate what town leaders have in mind for the next potential iteration of the island's main road. Right now, there is no state funding for design or construction. There's no timetable for implementation. And no final consensus on the exact path forward. Yet.
But there is an acknowledgement of town officials and residents that safety concerns along Gulf of Mexico Drive will drive changes years into the future.
"This is a long-range planning effort," said Town Manager Tom Harmer. "To look at the entire stretch of Gulf of Mexico Drive from a holistic standpoint, looking at the entire right of way, the existing multiuse pathway, the sidewalks, bike lanes, potential additional turn lanes, medians, etc."
Commissioners gave Kimley-Horn some feedback on initial plans late in 2021, and the company returned this week to deliver a follow-up presentation. Still to come are public-outreach sessions and more discussion about the vision as plans begin to take shape.
On Monday, commissioners watched the presentation and discussed it, then came to a series of intermediate agreements to help the engineering firm further refine the plans with the hope of some day presenting them to the regional Metropolitan Planning Organization and Florida Department of Transportation for consideration.
Two components of the town's Complete Streets program are in the works: a traffic circle at Broadway and Gulf of Mexico Drive and left turn lanes into Country Club Shores. Both are deep into the planning and design stage, but construction dates are not firm.
Others proposals aren't as visual as the ones presented in Kimley-Horne's multimedia examples, such as a recommendation to enlarge 35 mph speed limit zones on the south and north ends of the island and establish a new one from Bay Isles Parkway to around Bayfront Park.
Colleen McGue, a senior planner with Kimley-Horn, laid out some of the initial specifications that go with the visual representations: a 12-foot multiuse path on the east side, an 8-foot-wide sidewalk on the opposite side where possible, a 7-foot-wide buffered bicycle lane — though commissioners said they worried about the raised reflectors as a hazard to cycling. Even so, the proposed lane is about twice as wide as it stands now.
She said landscaped medians won't fit everywhere within the existing rights of way. Commissioners said they might not be practical given the number of driveways and side streets, anyway.
And they weren't in favor of broader areas of 35 mph speed limits, either, though Commissioner Mike Haycock said he supported the engineers' notion. He also said he liked the idea of the 12-foot path up and down the island, mostly to support cyclists who are hesitant to ride alongside cars and trucks.
"I'm a big biker. I used to be in the road and now retired to the slow guys' path. But the biggest conflict we have on our current pedestrian sidewalk is bicycles and pedestrians," he said. "It's for a couple reasons. . W, we have more walkers who wear headphones, so when you clang your bell, they don't hear you, and you scare the hell out of them when you drive by."
He said he would like to see considered a stripe down the middle of the path, making clear to all users that there are two directions to be considered, even though adherence would not be a mandatory thing.
Mayor Ken Schneier said he supported the direction of the overall proposal.
"I think this is really a great plan,'' he said. "I think actually having another sidewalk on the other side of the street, where is can fit, is a great idea.''
Cyclists, who came out to Monday's presentation, expressed broad support for the Complete Streets plan, especially the improvements to the roadway-adjacent bike lanes.
Howard Tessler, the president of Longboat Key Bicycle Association, said the state of the lane is "less than ideal'' from a design and maintenance standpoint
"Whoever built it did a terrible job,'' he said. "It's very bumpy. There are bike riders who refuse to ride in the lane in Manatee County because of the bumps and the jarring they get. The possibility of rebuilding Gulf of Mexico Drive has brought the chance of improving the bike lanes."
He said he hoped the concerns of cyclists would be further taken into consideration as the work of the town and its engineering consultant moves ahead.
Andrea Edson, a cyclist who said she's more comfortable on the multiuse trails on her "clunky old bike," said she was encouraged to see that considerations were being made for people like her.
"No way in the world would I ride on the bike lane on Gulf of Mexico Drive,'' she said. "I'm a recreational, casual rider. I represent the people who ride with their kids and their families.