- February 2, 2021
Although "complete street” construction on Ringling Boulevard in downtown Sarasota in incomplete, commuters are already getting a sense of a single lane of vehicle traffic on the formerly four-lane road.
Work began in early June on the Ringling Trail project, which will convert one lane of traffic in each direction between Lime and Pineapple avenues into a protected bicycle lane. Ultimately, the bike lane will connect Legacy Trail from Payne Park to the downtown core, and eventually to the bayfront when work on the U.S. 41-Gulfstream Avenue roundabout is completed and trail access restored.
From there, cyclists may continue on the multi-use recreational trail across the Ringling Bridge to St. Armands and Lido keys.
The Ringling Boulevard complete street project was divided into two phases, the first between Lime Avenue and Washington Boulevard nearing completion. Work on the second phase between Washington and Pineapple began last week, with the $2.76 million project scheduled for completion prior to the peak season this fall.
“Our strategy was to get the eastern side open first because that's where the county's Legacy Trail terminated, so that way we'd have the first connection with the Legacy Trail completed and then move on to the western portion,” said Project Engineer Camden Mills.
Legacy Trail is a nearly 23-mile, multi-modal paved trail that will ultimately connect Bradenton-Sarasota International Airport with the Venice Train Depot, eventually running the entirety of Sarasota County from north to south.
The trail currently terminates at Fruitville Road while the city of Sarasota either successfully completes negotiations with Seminole Gulf Railway to co-locate along the railroad’s right of way or, failing that, plotting alternate routes through the city.
In addition to striping, landscaped islands near intersections will serve as visual and physical separations between motor vehicles and bicycles. The city has projected as many as 1,000 bicyclists a day using the bike lanes.
Ringling Boulevard is a suitable route for the project, Mills said, because the road, which runs parallel to Main Street, it is not a thoroughfare or designated evacuation route.
Because traffic declined from an average of 14,000 vehicle trips per day in 2002 to 7,900 trips in 2019, losing one travel lane in each direction would have minimal impact on traffic.
Some elements of the project, Mills said, intended to improve traffic flow.
“At East Avenue we're adding some left turn lanes eastbound and westbound, and then at the intersection with U.S. 301 (Washington) there’ll be a dedicated right turn lane going westbound,” Mills said. "I think that's going to help traffic management long term.”
Often, vehicles had to squeeze past others stopped at the light to make a right turn on red, or simply wait their turn when the signal turned green.
Not everyone was thrilled with the new design. Steven Chasen of Sarasota was driving through the area last week and said he appreciated the emphasis on cycling, but questioned the ratio.
"This really is too much of a departure,'' he said. "Look at the cars, but do you see any bikes? I think they overdid it somewhat.''
Concrete work for the first phase, which includes the landscaped islands and ADA-accessible ramps at crosswalks, intersections and Sarasota County Area Transit bus shelters, is nearly complete.
Late last week, striping had already been applied to begin marking travel lanes, cycling lanes, parking spaces and buffer zones. The city posted an advisory on its social media accounts alerting drivers of new traffic flows and changing conditions from day to day.
“Once that's complete in the next couple of weeks, we'll be moving on to landscaping and irrigation,” Mills said. “While they're finishing that, they’re starting on concrete removal and prep work for the for the western portion west of U.S. 301.”
The eastern segment of Ringling Boulevard has been undergoing changes since June as part of the city of Sarasota's plan to convert the thoroughfare into a "complete streets'' project and establish a cycling link from Legacy Trail to the bayfront.
Among the new wrinkles:
These new features will allow for Americans With Disabilities Act access from the sidewalk to a Sarasota County Area Transit bus, because now a bus might not be able to pull up as close to the curb as previously.
Parking had been accessible along the curb for much of Ringling Boulevard's length. Now, in some cases, the cycling lane is the closest traffic feature to the sidewalk and curb. Particularly between East Avenue and U.S. 301, new parking spaces have been established.
One of the main reasons for the shift in traffic patterns was to allow for a protected cycling lane along Ringling Boulevard. In so places, striped "no-go'' zones buffer the cycling lane from the travel lane.
Built in planters, where the outside travel lanes once were, will be completed in weeks to come to also help buffer the cycling lane from motorized traffic.
Anyone who has ever tried to make a right turn from Ringling Boulevard to U.S. 301 while heading west will appreciate the new, dedicated, right turn lane.