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Vision for Main Street face-lift will require parking compromise

Sarasota city staffers tell DID board members "we have to be able to meet people halfway" when it comes to eventual complete street design.

The study area for the Main Street Complete Street visioning extends from U.S. 41 east to Lime Avenue and Fruitville Road south to Laurel Street.
The study area for the Main Street Complete Street visioning extends from U.S. 41 east to Lime Avenue and Fruitville Road south to Laurel Street.
Courtesy image
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With the city’s Main Street complete street visioning process well underway, soon comes the task of balancing the 10,000-foot-level imagination to street-level reality.

As the organization with perhaps the most at stake as Main Street is eventually transitioned into a more multi-modal, pedestrian-friendly passageway, city transportation staff members presented a progress report of the visioning to the Downtown Improvement District Board of Directors at its May 7 meeting. 

The visioning process will end this summer and full reports will then be developed, but in the interim Senior Transportation Planner Corinne Arriago and Chief Transportation Planner Alvimarie Corales updated the DID board on their progress.

Approval of the DID is not required, but the support of the board that represents all property owners, and by extension the businesses, in the downtown district is helpful.

“I don't envy you that balance that has to be found,” said DID Chair Chris Voelker. “Our perspective is trying to support the businesses. Those are our constituents in the DID. It's helpful for the residents if the businesses are healthy.”

Data presented includes crash history, an inventory of amenities along Main Street, a parking analysis and more, but above all parking remained of chief concern among some board members. 

Not so much the number of spaces available — the research showed city-owned parking on and adjacent to Main Street is underutilized — but rather the convenience to customers who eschew parking decks blocks away from their preferred merchants for spaces on the street near their destinations.

The visioning data indicates high enthusiasm for greater walkability and more outdoor dining over the number of angled parking spaces along Main Street. Some 66.3% of the more than 1,500 respondents to an online survey said they would like to see more outdoor dining and shopping on Main Street, by far the highest priority listed. Meanwhile, vehicle parking was named a top-five priority by 36.1%, placing seventh on the list.

A reimagined Main Street must strike a balance between features such as outdoor dining and parking spaces, city staff members told the Downtown Improvement District Board of Directors.
Photo by Andrew Warfield

Harmoni Krusing, a merchant who is the only member of the board who is not a property owner, said she regularly hears from customers that they will go elsewhere if on-street parking becomes more difficult.

"We're talking about people's livelihoods,” Krusing said. “It affects us and we’re already terrified with the construction, and then to remove parking because someone wants outdoor dining when maybe there's only two restaurants on their block. I just want the thought process to be really thoughtful on the redesigning.”

“I just want to reassure that we are taking a look at everybody's perspectives on this,” Corales replied. “The point of the visioning is to build that consensus, and we have to be able to meet people halfway. There are certain things that are bound to happen, but how do we build that consensus so the residents, the business owners and property owners can see a future on Main Street.”

Arriago bolstered the likely reduced parking scenario by pointing out that average peak Saturday occupancy is 59% of among the more than 2,000 city-owned paid and free parking spaces on and adjacent to Main Street between U.S. 41 and Lime Avenue. Krusing’s position is many of those spaces are too far flung for downtown merchant customers.

“As someone who's been there 20 years, it can be scary to lose all my parking,” Krusing said. “Do I have to leave downtown because I can't service my clients. I love how you had this survey, but some people think that this sounds great but don't have a company downtown. They don't have the struggles that we have downtown. They just have that vision, but they don't know the aftermath of that.”

Of 2,047 municipal parking spaces counted there are 323 on-street spaces are along Main Street, 304 on-street spaces on streets adjacent to Main Street, 48 spaces in surface lots and 1,372 in parking garages. For now, the visioning doesn’t specify how many spaces may be removed from Main Street, but it's apparent there will be reductions there. All of those decisions will eventually land at the feet of the City Commission, possibly years from now. 

There are currently no funding sources for the project.

Safety considerations

DID board member Eileen Hampshire expressed confidence planners can identify creative ways to overcome parking challenges — such as valet service — for customers who demand convenience. Walking several blocks from parking decks, she added, isn’t one of them for customers, women in particular.

“A lot of women will not park in the garage, and I don't blame them,” said Hampshire. “They're dirty and the elevator doesn't work half the time. That's another big issue if you're in high heels and you're going out for lunch. The parking meters are not easy to use and half the time they don't work. They tell someone who's coming downtown for fun they can use any (meter), but how the heck do I know which one works and I'm going to run around town trying to look for which parking meter works. 

“It’s an issue. It's just not well done, but it is solvable and I believe you can do it.”

Safety is another consideration. With the variety of options for traversing Main Street — cars backing out of angled parking spaces, pedestrians crossing the streets, scooters and bicycles on the road — 2022 saw the second most crashes since 2017 involving all modes of transportation at 50. The highest number of crashes was 71 in 2018. The peak COVID year of 2020 saw only 28 crashes.

Results of a survey of top five features the public would like to see in the re-envisioning of Main Street.
Courtesy image

Public engagement included door-to-door canvassing of businesses in February, community events and neighborhood meetings in March and April, two open house sessions in April and May and visioning workshops. A stakeholder group was also composed of residents, business owners and property owners who live, work or own a business along or adjacent to Main Street.

“The length of any project is the primary concern,” Corales said of feedback in the open house meetings. “They did say no pedestrian mall, eliminate bikes on Main Street, no parallel parking. They also wanted to see more tree canopy. Others were talking about redesigning Main Street for pedestrian and hoped this will expand as a broader project throughout the downtown.”

The next steps in the project start with a report on the results of a three-month online survey that garnered 1,536 responses followed by the development of a vision palette, then a concept development with alternatives, all concluding in late summer 2024.



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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