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Manatee County promotes safe transportation for Mobility Week

A special event at McNeal Elementary School presented information on various transportation topics.

Angelina Van Slyck learns the rules of the road at McNeal Elementary School on Oct. 28 during Manatee County's Mobility Week.
Angelina Van Slyck learns the rules of the road at McNeal Elementary School on Oct. 28 during Manatee County's Mobility Week.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer
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Sapphire Point's Ken Van Slyck, a former New York City police officer, brought his five kids to Gilbert W. McNeal Elementary School Oct. 28 for a different kind of lesson.

Van Slyck brought them to a kick-off event for Manatee County's Mobility Week with something specific in mind.

"It’s good to learn, especially here with the roundabouts," Van Slyck said. "No one knows how to navigate roundabouts.”

Manatee County Strategic Planning Manager Ogden Clark said Van Slyck’s assessment is one of the major pushbacks the county gets when it comes to that particular road improvement.

“Nobody knows how to drive roundabouts because they’re a newer concept in this area,” Clark said. “People that tend to say, ‘Roundabouts are great’ are usually from Europe or places up north because they were exposed to them at a very young age, and they know what to do when they get there and how to cross one.”

So the county chalked a miniature roundabout on the pavement for kids to use for practice. After all, they will continue to pop up on East County roads for years to come.

“We’re following the state trend. If you look back 10 years ago, this state didn’t even have a roundabout as a tool in their toolbox of solutions,” Clark said. “Now, that shift has gone in the other direction.”

Roundabouts were just one of the many topics at the event.

The Florida Department of Transportation set up a table to inform the community about major roadwork projects, one of which is the installation of seven roundabouts on State Road 70. The design is 80% complete, and construction is expected to begin in early 2024.

Congestion was another major issue.

“Out here, we’ve grown faster than our infrastructure can handle. All of Manatee County, but especially East County, is very car-centric,” Commissioner George Kruse said. “There’s two ways of fixing infrastructure. One is to build more infrastructure, and two is to put less people on the infrastructure.”

Kruse said Lakewood Ranch is the perfect location for an event that encourages multimodal transportation because the community was properly planned. He used Waterside Place as a prime example of being able to live, work and play without getting into a car. 

Commissioner George Kruse stops by McNeal Elementary School on Oct. 28 to kick off Mobility Week.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer

“I’ve been working since the day I got on this board with the Greenway Trail System, which will eventually connect Legacy Trail in Sarasota to Hillsborough’s trail system. The core spur of that goes right up through East County,” Kruse said. “Once you get things like that, you’ll take some of these cars off the roads.”

Kruse said the same thought process led to Manatee County Area Transit’s fare free pilot program. Since Nov. 1, 2022, all routes, except Route 99 that crosses into Sarasota County, are free to ride. The program was approved for an 18-month trial and will be reevaluated in early 2024 to determine if it can continue. 

The furthest MCAT drives into East County now is where S.R. 70 meets Rangeland Parkway.

“I’ve been with MCAT since December, but I know that they’ve tried traditional bus service in that area and didn’t have much success, so they discontinued that service,” Transit Planning Section Manager Chris Deannutis said. 

Deannutis said a recent survey of users didn’t rank service in East County as a priority, but he said residents do have access to the Handy Bus. Fares cost $2 for a one-way trip, and the service is provided on-demand for people with disabilities. 

MCAT is also looking into an on-demand service for all residents. It will be similar to Sarasota County’s On-demand service that works like an Uber. Residents call or use the app to summon a driver. 

“It’s a very expensive service, so we would have to find the funding for that,” Deannutis said. “I couldn’t give you a specific date. It’s within the 10-year plan, but it might be closer to five years.”

The county also brought equipment to the event, including big trucks, road signs and signals. 

“We’re moving toward engineering and solutions that are going to incorporate a lot of these features, including roundabouts, crosswalks and rapid flashing beacons,” Clark said. “Those things are not new, but still, people don’t know how to act around them. So from an education standpoint, it’s getting people to think about these things, and as they’re driving around town, to know what they mean and why they’re there.” 

The multimodal transportation event at McNeal was a first, but Clark said the staff envisions these events being held about four times a year in different segments of the county. Mobility week runs from Oct. 27-Nov. 3 this year. 



Lesley Dwyer

Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.

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