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Cars and pedestrians collide in Sarasota traffic showdown

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

A war of words with each side attempting to affect the future of Sarasota traffic was levied at the officials trying to solve the ever-present congestion.

From Longboat Key Mayor Terry Gans’ perspective, the emphasis of any serious discussion needs to address the entire situation and not become reduced to a “rigid philosophical box.”

Gans in a letter to Town Manager Dave Bullock said that he was “angry” because “any attempt to have serious discussions with the City of Sarasota toward addressing the entire situation is met with a stone wall.”

 

Barwin wants slow it down

What Gans is referring to is the position Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin has expressed repeatedly that any future traffic improvements must be predicated on slowing down U.S. 41 to make the city, in Barwin’s view, more of a pedestrian and bicyclist-friendly environment.

Barwin reacted last week to a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) executive summary by asking the MPO Executive Director “At which point, if any, pedestrian safety concerns will be factored in?”

Barwin told the director that the executive summary, which summarizes the strategies underway to address traffic, ignores pedestrian safety and what he sees as the need to lessen vehicular congestion.

Barwin said that pedestrian activity “is skyrocketing” in Sarasota and he expects pedestrian activity to double over the next 24 months.

“I am concerned these very dangerous realities are not being factored into the study and at best may be an afterthought,” wrote Barwin.

He added that traffic calming, speed reduction strategies and heavy pedestrian zone strategies must be incorporated into any planning along with “getting serious about advancing multi-modal planning and funding.”

The fact that Barwin continues to want to slow traffic at U.S. 41, which is the only route of exit for anyone traveling south off of Longboat Key, irks Gans. Gans faults Barwin for refusing to “deal with reality in pursuit of creation of a New York or Philadelphia manner of pedestrian/vehicle relationship.”

Gans says that Barwin is thus “creating a deliberately hostile situation.”

The crux of Gans’ issue is that Barwin, in his view, is holding the pedestrian needs far above the role the city plays in the regional traffic network.

Currently, cars can travel along U.S. 41 at 40 m.p.h. and ever-increasing development has added more traffic to the network.

Some island residents have encouraged a third left turn lane for travelers exiting the Ringling Bridge and heading north on U.S. 41. Others have suggested an elevated pedestrian walkway be used to cross U.S. 41 and thereby ameliorate the fear of cars striking pedestrians at 40 m.p.h.

City officials have expressed cynicism that pedestrians tend to avoid and bypass elevated walkways due to the extra effort necessary.

One improvement is the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has agreed to install a dedicated right turn lane on U.S. 41 heading north onto Fruitville Road. The City of Sarasota will continue to research its pedestrian-based approach.

All of the battling between island residents who wish to flow quickly and efficiently north and south off of the Ringling Bridge and those supportive of Barwin’s approach have to contend with the FDOT. U.S. 41, the Ringling Bridge and Fruitville Road are all controlled by FDOT, which is taking input from all the interested parties.

Also involved is the MPO. The FDOT and MPO are overseeing a study which hopes to address both the pedestrian safety as well as the traffic congestion issues. In a diplomatic tone, MPO Executive Director David Hutchinson responded to Gans by saying, “My belief is that all parties involved are interested in changes which can have a positive effect on our regional transportation network including enhancing the safety of our system for all users.”

The MPO is slated to hold a public presentation in October regarding the above issues and the FDOT study.

 

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