Crossing Gulf of Mexico Drive may get a little safer in the coming months.
The project to enhance multiple crosswalks along Gulf of Mexico Drive is well underway and ahead of schedule.
The Florida Department of Transportation is leading the project that spans the entirety of GMD. Five crosswalks on Longboat Key are included in the project — one new crosswalk and four receiving improvements.
On the north end, near Broadway Street, a new pedestrian crosswalk with amber flashing signals is being installed. It is expected to be completed by early February 2024.
Additional highway lighting at crosswalks near Companion Way and the Banyan Bay Club are scheduled to be completed late February 2024.
At Bayfront Park, one of the most used parks and public beach access points on the island, a pedestrian hybrid beacon will be installed.
Pedestrian hybrid beacons are those with a mast arm over the roadway. The signals on the arm flash yellow when a pedestrian wants to cross. Then, the signal turns a solid red allowing the pedestrians to cross safely while cars are stopped.
The same will be installed at the crossing near Country Club Shores. Both of the pedestrian hybrid beacons are scheduled to wrap up construction in March 2024.
Ajax Paving is the main contractor hired by the FDOT for the project, and the company is working ahead of schedule.
The original estimates were for completion to be late summer 2024, according to Director of Public Works Isaac Brownman.
He also emphasized that the town is not financially responsible for the project in any way.
Why the upgrades?
Brownman said FDOT was investigating the needs for pedestrian safety long before the start of the project.
Around 2016, the FDOT installed the original five mid-block crosswalks with amber flashers. When the town completed the Bayfront Park project in 2017, another crosswalk was installed at the park to cross toward the public beach access.
After 2017, residents and town staff were asking FDOT about the possibility of more crosswalks, according to Brownman.
In 2018 and 2019, after hearing the feedback, the FDOT began pedestrian traffic count surveys along GMD where there was the most concern for more crosswalks. From those surveys, the department decided there could be eight or nine more crosswalks on Longboat, Brownman said.
But Brownman said the commission at the time questioned if that was too many. At the same time, the Federal Highway Administration started recommending that no more mid-block crosswalks be installed on roads or highways over 35 mph.
The FDOT adopted that recommendation, therefore needing to go back and revise the original crosswalk plan.
“The FDOT did tell us that does not mean we’re going to go back and rip out all the ones that are in out, we’re going to leave those in, but they’re going to try to enhance them a little bit,” Brownman said. “And that’s what produced this project.”
Throughout the redesign of the project, the FDOT talked with town staff and discussed which crossings were the most heavily trafficked.
Brownman said the southernmost crosswalk, near Longboat Club Road, is one of the heaviest due to a lot of people on the south end using that for beach access.
Similarly, the Bayfront Park crosswalk is heavily used by people utilizing both the park and the public beach access across the street.
That’s what led to those two spots being chosen for the pedestrian hybrid beacons.
On the horizon
While Brownman said the town isn’t planning on more crosswalk-specific projects in the future, two long-term projects may incorporate safer crossing elements.
Closest is the Broadway Roundabout project, which is currently in the redesign process after feedback from FDOT nixed the original plan.
The new design will begin to incorporate elements of the town’s envisioned complete street project.
A little bit north and south of the new roundabout will be complete streets such as a wider path on the east side of GMD, a sidewalk on the west side and a median, according to Brownman.
Next is the complete street project for the entire island, which will be constructed incrementally.
“There are elements to that, that should allow safer crossings where we can implement,” Brownman said.
While that’s still years in the making, Brownman said the medians implemented in the project will provide safer crossing by giving pedestrians a stopping point between lanes.