Sarasota and Manatee traffic punishes Longboat’s property values, lifestyle and our collective sanity

Editor & Publisher

It will not be wealth that ushers in a revolution on Longboat Key and Sarasota — It will be traffic.

In the days following Christmas, all of Sarasota hopped in their cars and drove laps across the Ringling Bridge to City Island and back.

As I left my home in Lido Shores, I was confronted with nothing less than a wall of drivers. First I had to wait for the gap that never comes just to exit. That gap that I wait for has gotten smaller and smaller each year until these days I simply yank my car our and floor it and glance in the rear view mirror to see a middle finger gesticulating.

The other option is to wait and languish. To fidget with my Bluetooth. To hear my ever-hungry teenagers in mantra ask, “How long is it to Tijuana Flats?” Or, I simply retreat back to the house and relegate my plan to another hour — a nighttime excursion.

Obviously I am not alone. The traffic we experienced the week between Christmas and New Year’s is but a harbinger of the months to come.

Some members of the Longboat Key community are trying to get the FDOT and the MPO and the City of Sarasota and the Sarasota Police Department to attempt some reasonable tweaks.

Let’s look at some of these ideas while I continue to rant in the background. Like traffic, we must all suffer together.


The opening of bridges

It always seems counterintuitive to see hundreds of cars back up as a recreational boater struts his yacht through New Pass. All of the world stops to allow nothing more than an antenna or a mast clearance.

Some residents have approached the Coast Guard and for the most part other than cutting down on maintenance openings during peak traffic, there is little cooperation. Unless tall bridges are constructed, little will change on this front.


The light at MOTE

Once upon a time not so long ago, there was no traffic light at the Mote side of the New Pass Bridge. Some say the traffic backs up anyway at St. Armands, but this is yet another case where the masses of cars must stop for the few.

The worste effect is traffic now backs up heading north from St. Armands to Longboat Key. But like all government projects, once it is installed — like our crosswalks — no matter how inane, they become part of the fabric and rubric we must forever navigate.


The Circle Jerks

Then there is St. Armands. This is a study in patience, danger and the American way. The only thing that trumps the right of the automobile is the right to wander aimlessly and shop.

And of course, the right extends to allow shoppers to literally ooze one-by-one across the crosswalks strategically as slowly and in the least compact manner as possible.

I have seen groups of four walk three feet apart like the Beatles album cover Abbey Road — except they are fat and in T-shirts. This happens all day as the drivers coming from Longboat groan and curse and try to slink through the various “shortcuts” such as behind the Lutheran Church.

Again, Longboaters have urged for real crossing lights that would make the pedestrians walk “big city style” all at once. The word on the street is the merchants have fought this at every turn. They want this to remain an unfettered shopping-go-round and yet a state road runs right through the center.

Add to this mosaic of humanity the regular Corvette show and other mid-and-late-life-crisis exhibitions such as boat and Porsche shows and you get the picture.

Oh yes, and let us not forget the regular art shows. I use the word art loosely since all of the great art movements years later become homogenized and once safe and castrated end up in little booths. Once, Impressionism and Post Impressionism and Cubism and Pop Art were relevant cultural movements. Now we can see where Van Gogh really went to die.


Why am I ranting?

Why am I ranting? Because of the traffic. Because I can only listen to my playlists so many times. Because I can only call my friends so many times. And especially, I can only drive 10 miles per hour for so long until you and I and we collectively want to fix the situation in true Andre Breton fashion with an “act of pure Surrealism.”

Once through the Circle, I start driving toward Sarasota. This is where the true traffic grinds to a halt. Sometimes I surge out of the Circle only to realize like many people as they drive past Plymouth Harbor — I have reached my end. I will not make the ballet on time. I will not reach El Toro Bravo on Clarke Road before they close or I will be late picking my teenage son up from his girlfriend’s house. Perhaps he is the only one thankful and praying for traffic.

I arrive 45 minutes after St. Armands at Unconditional Surrender. And here we have the place some Longboaters suggest the police direct traffic instead of the traffic light. Maybe that would work. All I see in the meanwhile are the same homeless guys pacing back and forth as another example of something that has grown out of control.


Visit Sarasota: Where small city amenities 

meet big city traffic and homelessness

The fact remains that whatever Band-Aids, whatever short term tweaks to traffic lights and bridge openings and the possible regulating of pedestrians at St. Armands occurs, it will have as they say, a deminimus effect.

These efforts are absolutely worth taking. Much like the operating system on a phone and computer — everything can and will run a tad faster and smoother.

But the real problem is the City of Sarasota, Manatee County and ultimately even the I-75 corridor and Lakewood Ranch.

The City of Sarasota has taken a land use and zoning approach that will double the amount of hotel and condo units in Sarasota over the next 10 years. This is the same City that has failed for 20 years to develop an arts and cultural district in the property that stretches from the Quay to north of Sarasota Bay Club. This is the same city that cannot police its homeless population effectively nor create ordinances protecting the shop owners and visitors. This is the same City that also is so selfish it does not want to take responsibility to build a shelter for the very problem it cannot police.

It is not the police department’s fault by the way. It is the timid City Attorney and Commission and Manager who cannot operate in or out of the Sunshine effectively. This is the same City that cannot figure out if it wants parking meters or not. Nor can it build a lift station without squandering more funds than a new jail and homeless shelter would cost combined.

In short, the City does not plan intelligently. It even fails to react intelligently. We cannot count on our neighbor who is exponentially making traffic worse to be the entity to fix any situation whatsoever. Strong mayors are born out of fiascos run like the City of Sarasota.

Then there is Manatee County. Off of 75th street and Cortez Road we will soon see more than 8,000 new homes and significant waterfront development. It is as if Carlos Beruff slept in a room by himself and in a wild dream crafted the Manatee County Comprehensive Plan and simultaneously gave birth to the planning department.

It is sad. Our urging for changes to the traffic circle at Bradenton Beach and the light at 119th Street is akin to sweeping the porch while an avalanche is coming.


What to do…

Structural solutions will not work. We can talk about building a third bridge to access Longboat. We can seek a fleet of water taxis. We can say, “Let’s build every cultural, medical and retail amenity we want on Longboat so we never have to leave,” and guess what? We will have undermined the very beauty and essence of what makes Longboat and the area unique.

What this will take to stop the insanity is challenging the approvals the City of Sarasota feels compelled to give every property owner and developer.

In short, they hide behind their bastardized version of the Andres Duany plan and the zoning that evolved from its misunderstanding and misapplication.

We also have to challenge the constructs of what “a taking” means under the Bert Harris Act.

Additionally, for anything to change, the City has to get a Commission and Manager with a strong focus and agenda to preserve this region. It must make its mission to protect the property values and lifestyle of its existing residents and stop laying down like a drunken date saying “yes” to every applicant suitor who comes along.


Longboat must not punish itself

The saddest thing for Longboat Key is we are now taking the City of Sarasota’s irresponsibility and Manatee’s irresponsibility out on our property owners and ourselves.

Does anyone realize the population of Longboat Key has actually decreased over the past 10 years yet traffic has doubled?

We are paying the price and taking out our frustration on the owners of Whitney Beach Plaza and Harbor Square by not allowing any residential units to replace failing commercial uses. We will also likely punish any future developer of the Colony.

But the fact remains, Longboat is the one community that has lost population and even with the Colony and Hilton closed, look at the mess.

We need not point our fingers at ourselves. We must collectively take our middle finger and urge Town Manager Bullock, our Town Commission and each and every one of ourselves to pressure Sarasota and Bradenton and Manatee County to learn the meaning of a building moratorium. They must learn to say “No.”

Traffic is something you simply cannot get around. And the worse thing about traffic — life is short and smart people with the means will simply go somewhere else.

That is not the future we want on Longboat Key.





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8 Responses for “Sarasota and Manatee traffic punishes Longboat’s property values, lifestyle and our collective sanity”

  1. J.Chiarella says:

    Each of us could suggest a few plans that could address traffic, residents who live here understand the issues far better than a City government that has it’s own agenda, and a State agency that, well, behaves like a State agency.

    It’s a toss-up between the ‘circle jerks’ and the traffic lights at Gulfstream, Fruitville and 41, this one wins out because it might be easier to fix. These few lights cry out for traffic sensors and computer control. Visiting someone with a view of the intersections will tell you all you need to know in a few minutes. Cars wait forever exiting the island while the traffic on 41 is light. The backups due to the lack of timing at Fruitville makes it all seriously worse. Whether we use police temporarily or not, cities all over the country have seen that computers can get the job done.

    There’s a lot of land along Bayfront, why not extend the lane from Gulf Stream into Bayfront to be more of a merge, perhaps all the way towards the Main St. traffic light. This way cars could leave south at twice the rate they do now. This is a pretty easy fix too.

    Maybe folks should start inviting mayors and even governors to LBK for a weekend barbecue. Let an elected official see the issue first-hand so they understand that after a point, everything you build will decrease in value due to the ‘tax’ of 1-2 hours in traffic every day. Wake up, leaders! Complaining along with the rest of us to ‘get through’ season is no longer a strategy. We need action!

  2. Ross P. Alander says:

    p.s.I think we all knew what living on an island means, i.e. access off and on, traffic it’s a very nice place that visitors like to see, etc. etc. It is kind of like buying a house close to an airport for convenience and then complaining about the noise. With all of that I like LBK
    Ross P. Alander

  3. Ross P. Alander says:

    All in all however LBK is not a bad place to live 🙂

  4. Jan Slater says:

    Anyone who purchases a home on LBK or any other barrier island anywhere in the US should accept the fact that they live in a tourist zone and are bound to experience an attitude of “site seeing” in vehicle, pedestrian, and bicycle traffic. The rich & famous who complain because they’ve elected to live in these places are ridiculous. Infrastructure all over Sarasota/Bradenton (and beyond) was under-planned decades ago, and there is no economically feasible resolution to that problem….NO resolution. Come to grips with it or find somewhere else to live. You should be embarrassed to whine about anything if you are blessed enough to afford property there. Boo hoo…I can’t get to the ballet on time after my brunch…..poor you!

  5. jim smith says:

    Thanks steve, not only reporting the obvious but offering truth and clear solutions which is an oxymoron for political jammed in/ elected officials.We must take what normal thinking common sense hard working tax payers did this last election cycle approach.People clearly stated we had enough! This is not working.lets start LBK reality show and invite surrounding political players,and the words YOUR FIRED might get something done.Always appreciate LBK news. Like Craft beer, real ingredients, real craftsmanship, not exract.

  6. Georgie McFarland says:

    I propose a helicopter pad located in the new Town Park so people can park and take a short helicopter taxi to the mainland, thus leapfrogging all the additional traffic being created by the reconstruction of the Colony, Hilton and the Longboat Key Club. I am sure the Town Commissioner’s can buy some surplus Army Huey’s on the cheap and provide service to and from Longboat to the mainland. The short ride would only take about 5 minutes vs 1.5 hours driving from mid key to downtown Sarasota.

  7. Tommy Klauber says:

    Loved your rant Steve! Trying to get employees to come to fill the jobs on the key has become a huge challenge for businesses on the key as well. Once we are all flying our personal drone cars things will get better LOL!

  8. Tony Jimenez says:

    Thank you. I hosted New Year’s Day brunch and my guest were appalled at the traffic. They had other plans later that evening and left early as to avoid the traffic. It took them 1 hr to get to 41 from mid island. It’s awful. love LBK hate the traffic. Some thing needs to be done. Automated crosswalks would be a great start. Parking decks elimate parking on the circle. Do something.

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