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Sarasota, Longboat debate roundabout

MELISSA REID
Associate Publisher
mreid@lbknews.com

Staff and commissioners from Longboat Key and Sarasota discussed topics last Thursday that both municipalities will be addressing in the upcoming year.

Of the topics, the most pertinent item discussed was the planned roundabout at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Avenue.

City of Sarasota staff informed the Gulfstream Avenue roundabout is scheduled to begin construction in 2020, and will only have three intersecting streets, not four. The roundabout will merge traffic from Gulfstream Avenue on the west side with north and southbound traffic on U.S. 41.

Currently, the intersection connects all four directions, northbound and southbound U.S. 41 and east and westbound traffic on Gulfstream Avenue. There is a dedicated right turn lane from Gulfstream Avenue to U.S. 41 for Longboat and Lido Key residents heading south. There has also recently been an additional third left-turn lane added to the northbound-headed traffic from Gulfstream Avenue onto U.S. 41.

According to Longboat Key Commissioner Jack Daly, this is the way the roadways should remain before moving forward with construction on a traffic circle. Daly said the three left turn lanes should be evaluated for at least another tourism season to determine if it serves to alleviate the traffic congestion.

“I’d like to focus on the Gulfstream roundabout; the advice we got from our engineering expert, CDM Smith, is that the growth in Sarasota will continue at .5 percent a year. We’ve pressed Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) for a continued evaluation of the existing present three-turn lane at the intersection. This season we have noticed success with the extra left turn lane. We appreciate any support you (Sarasota) could give us with regard to FDOT,” said Daly.

Sarasota Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown responded, “We agree that there has been an improvement with the additional third left turn lane. But just as you have your experts, we had our expert which said that the roundabout would be even better. And we have to consider the pedestrians’ and bicyclists’ safety.”

Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin agreed. “In our case, we have to be cognizant of pedestrians, they want walk-able cities. And when the Legacy Trail is connected to Payne Park, there will be more bicyclists coming to our city as well,” said Barwin.

Daly continued that growth might continue at twice what FDOT expects and that the three left turn lanes would be better with regard to the increased population and new construction of hotels and condominiums in downtown Sarasota.

Longboat Key Vice Mayor Ed Zunz asked the City of Sarasota if there was a Plan B if the roundabout doesn’t work.

Although there was no response regarding a Plan B, Barwin did assert that roundabouts are faster because there is no stopping involved. Barwin also informed the Longboat Commission that the City was in the process of developing a training program to help drivers master how to use the roundabouts.

Daly said that the U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Avenue intersection is unique because it is an evacuation route.

“I share your enthusiasm on other roundabouts, but this is a unique one,” said Daly.

Zunz also pointed out that while the other roundabouts may have less traffic and so it moves through quickly, the Gulfstream roundabout traffic will be heavy and back up.

“It will not flow as well. Every person will be weaving in, one-by-one. I can’t even imagine,” said Zunz.

Sarasota Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch said she is a fan of roundabouts as well, but that there is a sense that the Gulfstream and U.S. 41 intersection is a lynch pin in the community.

“The latest statistics from FDOT were that a roundabout would decrease traffic flow by 11 percent. I just think if we’re going to have buy-in on this roundabout and we’re spending millions on building it, we should see more than an 11 percent improvement,” said Ahearn-Koch.

Longboat Key Mayor George Spoll agreed, and stated that perhaps if there were an additional southbound right turn lane from Gulfstream to U.S. 41, that would perhaps help. He added that everything else was performing better than he has ever seen at that intersection in over 20 years.

Although both cities did not agree on the benefits of a roundabout at the intersection of Gulfstream and U.S. 41, the meeting was designed to be more informative than determinant.

The two cities also discussed problems with traffic flow along St. Armands to which Longboat Key said they would be interested in partially funding, along with the City of Sarasota, crossing guards for the circle. Sarasota also informed Longboat of the location of the speed tables to be placed on the circle, which is designed to help protect pedestrians. The City of Sarasota also was willing to listen to the problem of Lido beach goers clogging traffic along the circle as Longboat residents are driving to get to the mainland.

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1 Response for “Sarasota, Longboat debate roundabout”

  1. Catherine Strauss says:

    We were just down for a visit this past June and noticed a blinking red light by one of the high rise buildings. It was very confusing on what to do. Stop, go, only if people are around, but the people were not going, so the cars were going. Signs were awful and unclear. Too much going on and have to say the development is getting to be too much. I’m all for progress but it’s becoming too closed in.

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