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Longboat fears Sarasota roundabout could worsen traffic at Gulfstream

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

The Longboat Town Commission is anything but sold on the roundabout that appears increasingly likely to be built at US41 and Gulfstream Avenue.

Last week, Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) officials told the town commission that a roundabout would move traffic more efficiently than the current traffic signal and will likely be designed and eventually built. FDOT official Joshua Jester told the commission that it had completed an engineering and design study and the conclusion of the analysis is that the roundabout would be more efficient in moving traffic through the intersection. Specifically, Jester said that even with future traffic increases entered into the analysis, there would be a 20 percent improvement during peak afternoon traffic, almost double the improvement that could be realized even with signal and intersection improvements.

Commissioner George Spoll and his fellow board members had numerous concerns and questions. Spoll reacted to the current proposal by the city to narrow Fruitville Road from four to two lanes between US41 and US301.

“What about the crazy idea of narrowing Fruitville and the definite effect it will have in backing up traffic to the bridge? You can’t grease one spot and then throw glue on others. That is a concern for a lot of us,” said Spoll.

Jester replied that the roundabouts “Need to be looked at as a system and will hopefully move traffic through there better.”

“Hope is a great word,” replied Spoll.

Jester explained that the FDOT only has 100 feet of right-of-way between the Vue condominium and the Sarasota One office building and they are limited by that pinch point.

Spoll countered that the traffic that travels on US41 between Fruitville Road south to US301 does not need to approach the Bayfront. He said that the through traffic should be routed over to US301 and away from the waterfront and the congested exit route for Longboat and Lido residents.

Town Manager Dave Bullock said his concern in the conclusion that the roundabout would be more efficient is with the underlying data. His observation is that southbound traffic on US41 is continuous and that for cars trying to exit Gulfstream Ave. into a roundabout would find very few gaps even though the FDOT presentation showed a rapid flow rate.

“I’m concerned of the highly optimistic assumption on gaps and the ability to enter the intersection. My comment to FDOT is someone needs to perform a review of the underlying data and think very carefully whether that is going to give the right information. We do not want this to operate worse than today. It all comes down to your data. My intuition is it is an improper data analysis,” said Bullock.

Roundabouts are part of a major initiative in Sarasota with numerous ones already installed and planning underway for roundabouts at 14th Street, 10th Street, Fruitville Road, as well as US41 and Main St. and US41 and Ringling Blvd. The plan by FDOT is to make a final decision by end of 2017 with construction taking up to an additional year.

Commissioner Jim Brown said that Longboat drivers are not like college kids and do not have the same reaction time and may not pull out efficiently as anticipated into the gaps between vehicles in a roundabout.

“Some wait for an invitation to pull in and pull out and we should not assume,” said Brown.

Commissioner Irwin Pastor described the roundabout proposal as “a very, very threatening situation.”

Pastor added that the FDOT may be getting the city into the same situation as it finds itself in St. Armands Circle by encouraging more pedestrian traffic and thereby stopping vehicles with increased walkways.

The engineers said in a roundabout, only a small part of the circle is cut off when pedestrians cross.

Bullock said, “A lot of us are nervous. We have not seen traffic of this magnitude through a roundabout and we would hate to be the guinea pig.”

To help assuage the town’s fears, the FDOT will provide Bullock with numerous examples of roundabouts that they say are already functioning and efficiently moving similar or larger volumes of traffic with efficiency.

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