Traffic impediments circle St. Armands as season nears

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Few visions exceed the aesthetic pinnacle of watching a sunset dance across the waves of Sarasota Bay as one descends the Ringling Bridge toward St. Armands. The ephemeral beauty continues in every direction: the turquoise Gulf of Mexico, the collection of culinary temptations on St. Armands Circle and the beach that extends like a warm runway leading far away from the harried pace of everyday life.

But all of this beauty has a counterpoint, and that counterpoint is the wall of traffic that residents and visitors endure during the busy season. Unfortunately the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), while taking steps to remedy the situation, will soon undertake a series of projects that threaten our driving efficiency.

First, drivers heading west toward St. Armands Circle from the Ringling Bridge will notice each and every Australian Pine is marked orange with an orange band signifying their pending removal.

Following Hurricane Irma, the main impediment for emergency personnel and eventually visitors to re-enter Lido and Longboat Key was the presence of several downed Australian Pines that impeded access. It required work crews several hours to make the roads passable.

Following this event, area Fire Departments and Emergency personnel recommended to the City of Sarasota and eventually FDOT, which governs the state roadway, to remove each and every Australian Pine.

The pines are deemed to have a shallow root system that renders them vulnerable to falling when the ground is saturated by rain and winds follow. Florida municipalities have been on a mission to remove the trees dubbing them “invasive species.”

The trees along John Ringling Boulevard were planted by John Ringling and the City has vowed to replace them with native species.

Longboat Key Town Manager Tom Harmer is not opposed to the tree removals, but is concerned with the timing.

“Longboat has been supportive of removing the trees from an evacuation standpoint, but our only concern is timing. Why now, as we head into season?” said Harmer.

Harmer said that FDOT originally planned the work over the summer, but the project was delayed.

The tree removal will necessitate closing one of the westbound lanes as will the construction of what is referred to as The MURT Trail. MURT is an acronym for Multi-Use Recreational Trail and the idea is to continue with a 10-foot wide pathway all the way from the base of the Ringling Bridge west to St. Armands Circle.

The flood

Another project that is due to start in the busy season is a plan to elevate the roadway in front of the Westin Hotel at the corner of U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Ave. Currently, flooding can impede traffic after strong rains and the idea is to elevate that section of roadway.

Just north, the intersection at Fruitville Road and U.S. 41 will soon see construction begin on a 14-month roundabout project. FDOT plans to cut off westbound Fruitville traffic during the roundabout’s construction and will detour drivers onto U.S. 301 to Mound Street where travelers will have to circle around downtown.

Additionally, a roundabout at 14th Street and at 10th Street are under construction and both will be built well into next year.

The final and perhaps most contested roundabout, which will be built at U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Avenue, is due to start construction in October of 2020. That project has been fought by Longboat Key Town Officials who believe that the FDOT should further evaluate the efficiency of the triple turn lane that was installed for drivers turning north off of Gulfstream onto U.S. 41. Longboat has long maintained that any impediment to evacuation presents a danger. The City of Sarasota has sought that particular roundabout citing improved vehicular circulation in the traffic engineers’ analysis as well as improved pedestrian safety.

All of the above projects led to Harmer reporting to Longboat Commissioners that the projects raise some concerns in their timing.

Last but not least is the issue of the temporary speed bumps that were installed by FDOT last summer at St. Armands. Harmer said it was the urging of the St. Armands Merchant Association that led to their installation. The Longboat Key City Commission, and especially Mayor George Spoll, have objected and have called for other methods.

Longboat Key urged the City of Sarasota to remove a handful of parallel parking spaces that Longboat officials say impede visibility of the crosswalks. To date, those requests have gone unanswered. The Mayor is so outraged by the speed bumps that he recommended at the last commission meeting that drivers from Longboat to Sarasota avoid the circle by traveling through the residential neighborhoods as a form of automobile-based civil disobedience.

Harmer said the speed bumps are part of what the FDOT is calling a pilot program.

“We prefer they not put them in; we believe other things are more important,” said Harmer.

Harmer said the City of Sarasota and FDOT plan to evaluate the speed bumps and may install permanent speed humps, bumps or raised crosswalks if they believe they are working. There has been no definition given at this time of what specifically they will be evaluating.

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Longboat Key News

8 Responses for “Traffic impediments circle St. Armands as season nears”

  1. Giina says:

    Those Australian pines have been there for over 50 years. Any tree can fall during a storm and they have held up for the most part over the years. They provided nesting for night herons. They were part of our landscape. With the problems that our city faces, not enough infrastructure, traffic, red tide, homeless, I am shocked that out leaders chose to put our resources towards cutting down trees without a vote. Any leader in office should be voted out. It is a mis-use of power.

  2. Rick Crawford says:

    Hopefully Longboat will have 5G. Crazy with 3G if true..

  3. Sunny Gravy says:

    Put in crossing lights in the crosswalks and fine jay walkers who walk out between cars. Also ticket the bicycle racers who ignore stop signs, red lights and the rest of the rules of the road.

  4. Speed bumps are unnecessary: traffic in the circle is already too slow because of Pedestrian Crossings: Goal should be to increase rate of traffic flow judiciously, while protecting pedestrians: In order to do this, it is simple: remove all parking spaces in the center of the circle–this would eliminate the danger posed by drivers backing up in order to parallel park, which slows everyone down. Put crossing guards at pedestrian crosswalks, during peak season, like had been done in the past. Bottom line: not enough space in the circle, for cars to navigate at a normal speed, is the issue one should focus on.

  5. bob Haley at Seaplace says:

    With all the news about 5G internet,is LBK still going with 3 G?

  6. Steve Keller says:

    The St. Armands Circle Traffic Impediments are yet another example of our Professional Bureaucrats never ending quest to justify their existence by thinking up novel ways to fix things that aren’t broken. We’d be better off if they spent more time on the Golf Course.

  7. Jane newman says:

    It is no surprise that our mercurial mayor seeks to punish the unwitting residents of St. armand’s for a decision they have had no “ say” in. Whose civil disobedience are we citing here?

  8. Al Hixon says:

    The recently installed BUMP HUMPS are a total visual distraction from looking for the pedestrians, so rather than being more safe they are actually reduce pedestrian awareness & safety.

    Allen Hixon, FASLA
    Landscape Architect and Land Planner

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