The number of accidents at city of Sarasota roundabouts may not tell the whole story, because while accident volume is up compared to that of the replaced intersections, crash severity is down, according to the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization.
And when city transportation planning staff on Jan. 16 presented the MPO's 2024 project priority list to the City Commission, listed among the funded projects were roundabouts on U.S. 41 at Martin Luther King Jr. Way and at Myrtle Street.
Although construction of the next two in a planned “necklace” of roundabouts along U.S. 41 through the city is still five years or more into the future, the traffic circles occupy a critical role of the local long-range transportation plan.
The Federal Highway Administration has determined roundabouts are safer and move traffic more efficiently than signalized intersections at select locations.
When vehicle crashes occur, even if in equal or greater numbers, they are typically lower in speed and are not head-on or perpendicular in nature.
Locally, a year after the opening of the most recent city roundabout at Gulfstream Avenue, crash stats are mixed.
The Observer obtained crash data from the Sarasota Police Department for the past full calendar year when there were intersections at 14th Street, 10th Street and Fruitville Road and from the calendar year 2023.
For Gulfstream Avenue, crash numbers from 2019 were used as a comparison to 2023 because it was the most recent full year of normal traffic volume prior to COVID-19. While crashes were up in two of the other three roundabouts with a third equal in number, wrecks in 2023 were up sixfold over 2019 at Gulfstream, at 120 in the past year.
At least part of that increase may be attributable to ongoing construction along U.S. 41 on both the north and south sides of the roundabout after the circle itself opened for operation in late December 2022. Crashes in the immediate vicinity are also ascribed to the roundabouts even if they do not occur within the circle itself.
Regardless of the number of crashes, Sarasota-Manatee MPO Executive Director David Hutchinson said the roundabouts are performing as expected.
"By and large they're working very well,” Hutchinson said. “After a little bit of a rough start with the construction on Gulfstream, that has gone smoothly. They're not quite wrapped up on it, but it's functioning and seems to be working well, even during our visitor season.”
A newsletter published by local policy advocacy group CityPAC takes a contrarian view on the continued move toward replacing intersections with roundabouts, citing the numbers at Gulfstream Avenue as an example.
“The commission reviewed the regional transportation priorities set by the Metropolitan Planning Organization,” the newsletter reads. “Maybe, before charging ahead, we should look both ways? For example, there were three separate crashes on Christmas Day at the Gulfstream traffic circle, bringing the tally for its first year of operation to over 120 accidents.”
According to the MPO, an analysis of roundabout crashes in Sarasota and Manatee counties suggests roundabouts are achieving the primary objectives of efficiency and an estimated 78% reduction in severe crashes by reducing the number of conflict points and increasing driver awareness of other vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists.
“Analysis of over 500 crash reports for 14 roundabouts in Manatee and Sarasota counties supports the (Federal Highway Administration’s) findings that roundabouts are a proven safety countermeasure,” the MPO’s report reads. “Existing research, further supported by the findings of this analysis, demonstrates the effectiveness of roundabouts at reducing the frequencies of serious crashes that result in serious injuries and death.”