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Dynamic duo leads implementation of Sarasota In Motion

Alvimarie Corales and Corinne Arriaga are the city's public faces, and sometimes lightning rods, of transportation planning.


Corinne Arriaga (left) and Alvimarie Corales approach multimodal transportation from different perspectives.
Corinne Arriaga (left) and Alvimarie Corales approach multimodal transportation from different perspectives.
Courtesy image
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One is a native of Puerto Rico, the other is from New Jersey.

Neither had any intention of pursuing a career in transportation planning.

Both arrived at the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization in 2017, then came to the city of Sarasota Planning Department in 2021, and today they are the city’s transportation planning pair, responsible for executing the master transportation plan. Sarasota In Motion was crafted by their predecessors and codified by the Sarasota City Commission. 

Together, they combine their diverse approaches to mobility planning to execute projects identified as priorities by the commissioners. This includes initial public engagement through implementation — and everything in between, like site visits of businesses, neighborhood workshops, state and federal project grant applications, design liaison and public presentations.

And more than colleagues, by all indications they are close friends.

“She was a bridesmaid in my wedding,” said Senior Transportation Planner Corinne Arriaga of Chief Transportation Planner Alvimarie Corales, who is also her supervisor.

“I got married before I moved here, but she would have been in mine,” Corales added.

Now sharing a common goal, both took circuitous routes to arrive here from their origins separated by 22 degrees of latitude.

City of Sarasota transportation planners Corinne Arriaga and Alvimarie Corales were among the the participants in the MPO's 2050 LRTP visioning workshop.
Photo by Andrew Warfield

Arriaga earned a bachelor's in psychology at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee and a master's in public health from USF in Tampa. Corales earned a bachelor's in sociology from University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez and a master's in urban planning at the University of Florida.

As an undergraduate, Arriaga worked as a research assistant for Age Friendly Sarasota, an eight-year Patterson Foundation initiative to promote active, engaged, and healthy living for people of all ages. That connection led her to the MPO where, as an intern, she took her first steps into transportation planning.

“If you had asked me what transportation planning was, I don't think I could have even guessed,” Arriaga said. “When my internship came to a close, I applied for one of the MPO's multimodal planner positions, which I did not get, but they created a public involvement coordinator position for me.” 

She didn’t get the multimodal planning job, but Corales did.

Arriaga earned her master's while working with the MPO, where she approached transportation planning from a different perspective.

“I was really able to focus on the intersection of public health and transportation,” she said. “I found that very valuable for what I was doing.”

By contrast, Corales’ approach to transportation planning is data-driven, applying her interest in sociology to analyze how people interact with the built environment.

“After graduation, I knew I needed to follow another path, and a professor at the university was an urban planner, and I had never heard about that before,” Corales said. “I took every class that I could with him to learn more about what this was. And that's how I got my foot in the door for urban planning.”

That interest led Corales to the University of Florida, where her master's work focused on geographic information systems and urban design. 

“I had always said that I did not want to do transportation planning,” she said. "I focused on trying to find alternatives to planning that were innovative. I held three jobs while I was in school with my research professors, and come to find out I was doing transportation planning for two out of the three jobs so I thought, 'OK, I think I have a knack for this.'”


From vision to construction

Their winding paths intersected at the MPO in 2017. Arriaga was later promoted to multimodal planner after Corales was promoted to principal planner, eventually rising to planning manager in 2021. 

In November 2021, Arriaga was the first of the two to leave the MPO and join the city. Corales followed her one month later.

“I basically dragged her here,” Arriaga said.

Together again following their brief separation, they were tasked with taking Sarasota In Motion from paper to concrete and asphalt. 

Design work for the master plan’s Ringling Trail complete streets project was already underway to convert the four-lane roadway into a multimodal connector from the current termination of Legacy Trail near Lime Avenue to the bayfront, connecting to points beyond.

Chief Transportation Planner Alvimarie Corales (left) and Senior Transportation Planner Corinne Arriaga both joined the city staff in late 2021.
Photo by Andrew Warfield

“Our predecessors were focused on the transportation master plan, so their emphasis was on citywide planning,” Arriaga said. “Because this plan was adopted, the city needed people who could focus on project planning. How do we take these excellent projects that the community has told us that they want and that they need? How do get them from the vision of the master plan to being built?”

Next on pace to be built are the dual complete street projects on Boulevard of the Arts and 10th Street, the former from Orange Avenue to the bayfront and the latter from Orange Avenue to U.S. 41. 

On May 23, the pair hosted a neighborhood workshop on the projects, one that was so well attended it required an unplanned second formal presentation. Both are at the 60% design phase but not yet scheduled for construction as they await federal funding decisions. 

Meanwhile, Corales and Arriaga have embarked on the visioning for a reimagined Main Street, the first step in what is typically a decade-long process, if not longer, from idea to completion, all while balancing conflicting public perception along the way.

“We do get that constant messaging of why something is not going to work. You are not putting a lot of thought into it. You're going too fast or you're not going fast enough,” Corales said. “These projects have been going through all this public involvement and all this public outreach for years and we have been very transparent. We have project websites. There is plenty of information out there, but sometimes we get these messages that we’re going too fast on this project even though it's been going on for a couple of years.

“If you look at how transportation projects get built from the moment they are budgeted to construction, they can take 10 to 15 years. Either way, for some people we’re either going too fast or we're going too slow.”


Future vision

Corales and Arriaga say they don’t find fault in the general public’s perceptions — or misperceptions — of the transportation improvement process. 

Residents view needs as they exist today while planners must consider what travel may be like decades into the future. 

Will there be a greater emphasis on more advanced modes of mobility such as bus rapid transit? If so, what are the likely corridors and how should parallel streets be designed to complement? Will there be a need for more parking or less as mobility trends evolve?

“It just tells me that we need to provide more education,” Arriaga said. “What happens a lot of the time is people don't understand the benefit, or maybe they see something and they feel like it's not going to work. They don't realize we analyze all this based on data. Alvie can tell you she's data-oriented. Her whole background is in data and data analysis.”

“These projects don't just come out of thin air," Corales added.

Sarasota Senior Transportation Planner Corinne Arriaga discusses complete street plans with a resident during the public workshop.
Photo by Andrew Warfield

As the faces of city transportation planning, the duo also take the brunt of criticism about projects. Although they provide project guidance and are guided themselves by transportation engineers who apply practicality to imaginative concepts, they receive their directives from the City Commission passed down through the City Manager’s office. And in the end, it is the commission that approves or rejects plans.

The 60% completed plans for 10th Street and Boulevard of the Arts were achieved starting with public visioning sessions, a two-day tour to solicit feedback from businesses in the Rosemary District and passersby on the street, combining that input with results of workshops and surveys, and providing all of that data to transportation and land planning engineers. 

As design-build projects, the final design threshold will come as construction begins, whenever it begins, and only after funding is secured. Meanwhile, it's on to Main Street and any of the six remaining top 10 Sarasota In Motion priorities.

“We have general ideas of what the future looks like, but it's not set in stone and anything can change especially when it comes to transportation,” Arriaga said. “We have really big brains out there thinking up great ideas, and it's just a matter of who can implement it and when, and how we can be prepared for that.”

 

author

Andrew Warfield

Andrew Warfield is the Sarasota Observer city reporter. He is a four-decade veteran of print media. A Florida native, he has spent most of his career in the Carolinas as a writer and editor, nearly a decade as co-founder and editor of a community newspaper in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

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