Sarasota, FDOT talks traffic, transportation plans on LBK
Sarasota City planners and engineers as well as the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) descended on Town Hall last week to talk about traffic, roundabouts and roadway plans that will have a direct impact on Longboat Key.
The session opened with the City of Sarasota Engineer making the case for 11 roundabouts that will cost about $30 million to construct and are planned to be built over the next five years.
Longboat Key drivers will be most affected by the roundabouts proposed at US 41 and Gulfstream Avenue at the base of the Ringling Bridge as well as roundabouts at US 41 and Fruitville Road and Main Street and Ringling Boulevard.
The Sarasota officials told the commission that roundabouts are far safer and will reduce serious injuries and fatal crashes by 76%. They said that when there is an accident, since cars are moving in the same direction, it is much less severe.
The engineering models performed by the city project that the roundabouts will not slow traffic, but will either maintain existing conditions or move traffic at a faster pace through intersections.
The city officials also spoke of the recent increase in impact fees on Downtown Sarasota development, which were raised by 42% by the Sarasota Commission since the board felt it no longer needed to discount the fees to attract development. The influx of funding will help pay for the second part of the discussion, the proposed Fruitville Road streetscape.
This is the part that caused the most consternation for the Longboat Commission since one of the proposals is to slow traffic on Fruitville Road and reduce the roadway from two lanes to one lane in each direction.
The city asserts that one lane in each direction will not lower the level of service and that it is the intersection at Fruitville and US 41 that serves as the funnel, which they contend is causing the traffic backups. The argument for the single-lane approach is to allow enhanced bike and pedestrian walkways, as well as creating connectivity between the downtown urban core and the neighborhoods to the north.
Longboat Key Town Manager Dave Bullock pointed out to the city that in the transportation goals of Sarasota, there was no recognition of its critical position as the corridor where everyone on south Longboat, Lido and Bird Key must travel through to get off the islands. Bullock also noted that when the City of Sarasota is calculating the impact of development on its roadways, it is drawing a loop around the downtown core but not including the many other projects and areas in the city that are also affecting traffic.
Longboat Key Mayor Terry Gans questioned if there were any study on the impact on city traffic resulting from the rest of the county, and he was told there was not.
Commissioner Jack Daly spoke for the residents: “Our constituents ask what in the world is Sarasota doing to address congestion?”
In reply, Daly was told by the Sarasota City officials that all new development projects would have to pay the increased road impact fees. He was also told that these fees are now expanded and referred to as a “multi-modal” impact fee. The multi-modal fees can be used for improvements other than just widening roads and improving intersections said the city.
The multi-modal approach is allowing Sarasota to pursue what it refers to as “inducements to travel using alternatives to the automobile.” For instance, the city is touting a plan to have small, taxi-like vehicles transport people from shopping areas to residences and appointments as a way to cut down on additional automobiles and parking. Other options the city is pursuing are water taxis which would connect Longboat Key and downtown, as well as granting the right to allow the SCAT bus to have a priority position at intersections and traffic lights to further encourage its use.
The city told Longboat Key commissioners that Fruitville Road resembles a suburban roadway with unshaded, mostly unusable sidewalks, and therefore no pedestrians resulting in an impediment to the expansion and aesthetics of the city. The changes the city is suggesting, which include the possibility of reducing the roadway from two lanes in each direction to one lane in each direction between US 41 and US 301, are all part of a plan to create a pedestrian friendly downtown core.
Town Manager Bullock expressed his concern. “My experience is wherever I have traveled in the country, when two lanes become one, I find traffic and congestion,” said Bullock.
Commissioner Jim Brown urged the city officials to wait to leave Longboat until 5 p.m. when their presentation was over “then you will change your mind.”
The FDOT gave a brief talk about roundabouts and the cost and the potential study and construction timelines. At the end of their presentation, Bullock commented, “I implore you to keep Longboat Key’s objectives in mind and not make things worse.”