What Sarasota traffic, the FDOT, Tom Barwin, the Baron of Botox & DC Sniper have in common

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The motto of the FDOT is, “If it works, we will fix it.” 

Just when traffic was eased on US 41 at the base of the Ringling Bridge with a triple left turn lane, it was the FDOT’s cue to start construction.

And then, while they were at it, why not just drop some speed bumps on St. Armands Circle as if throwing nail strips in front of sea turtles to slow them down as they try and crawl home?

“Let’s see,” the FDOT and Sarasota City staff reasoned, “There have been no pedestrian accidents on St. Armands Circle despite the strange and random crossing by hoards of tourists, so what could we do there in terms of a project to further slow things down?”

How can you hit a pedestrian when the traffic created from road projects makes us drive slower than the pedestrians?

But not only did the FDOT install speed bumps, they are going to take it one step further — and only FDOT can do this — next they are going to study the speed bumps. Men with orange vests and clickers and walkie talkies and college degrees will spend a few days watching and analyzing the speed bumps and will generate reports and recommendations on the speed bumps. If you think getting sand from Big Pass to Lido Key takes work, try studying the effect of a speed bump. It is mind numbing.


FDOT rivals Comcast for affection

I have decided the FDOT is yet another impersonal entity beyond reproach.

The state-run organization is the Comcast Cable of the roadways.

The FDOT simply does not care. Sure, they act like they care. Just like Comcast, they will apologize profusely whenever you call to complain.

“I understand your frustration and we wish to apologize…”

They hold public forums and input sessions and love feedback.

But just like Comcast markets its on-time guarantee, you realize it is nothing more than window dressing to cover up the real culture of the operation. Kind of like a cocaine dealer with a flower shop.

The FDOT is into visibility. The organization wants to look busy to the greatest number of residents and visitors so they always work during the day and right smack in the busy season.

Whether installing a Multi Use Recreational Trail on the way to St. Armands Circle, or ripping trees from the roadways, the FDOT contractors wait like frozen lizards all night and only work when the sun warms things up by late morning.

And let’s look at the Coon Key Bridge — that tiny arch of roadway between Bird Key and St. Armands Circle. It has seen more construction in the last decade than the George Washington Bridge. This is the second or third time in as many years the FDOT has worked on the 20-foot span — simply mind-boggling.

It is as if the FDOT and the City of Sarasota time their roadwork like the Sarasota Orchestra times a symphony — with precision and during season to reach the largest possible audience.


All cones and no work…

And the traffic nightmare continues north and south in all directions.

My wife drives our children to Pineview in Osprey each day. Last week, together we drove at noon to a meeting to discuss my son’s work habits, or lack thereof.

Heading south on US 41 the road narrowed into one lane. I saw a line of cars bumper-to-bumper heading as far as discernable into the distance.

I though we would arrive 10 minutes early, but I soon realized we would be late. My wife nonchalantly says, “Oh, this happens every day. I do not know what they are doing, but they filter the traffic into one lane.”

And then I saw all the signs of an FDOT project — all cones and no work. They had the warning, “Traffic fines doubled when workers present,” but all I could see was a sea of cars, faces and frustration.

After two miles of crawling traffic and as many cones and barrels, I see three men standing — two with clipboards and a one holding a 4-foot piece of PVC pipe. It was about as much work as a dad and two sons fixing a lawn irrigation pipe in the front lawn on a Saturday morning. After an hour and a half of traffic I was rewarded with a teacher-parent conference.

Traffic is life altering. Little requests such as, “Can you run over to Publix for dog food?” are major threats to my day.  It’s like thousands of years ago someone saying, “Can you head over to the other valley, bring back some water, spear a few fish and hunt some wild boar.” No small task.


Unsafe at any speed

So what do we do with all the time in the car?

I break all the rules and send countless texts. I have learned as has most of the population to dart my eyes off my phone screen and at the bumper in front of me — which at best is traveling four miles per hour. This is like confession but I text, read Google news about how Joe Biden is now considering himself the candidate of the African American Community and then I read of how Trump wants to force Corona Virus on anyone who testified, thought of testifying or works at CNN or MSNBC.

But like most Americans I listen to podcasts.

Podcasts are a form of intellectual slumming. They are not even books on tapes. Essentially, half the podcasts are true crime stories — sordid Dateline type mysteries.

So while stuck in traffic this past week I have listened to things I never would have even imagined five years ago. I started with a podcast on the football fetish of former president Richard Nixon and how that entered his sphere of influence. Then, The Barron of Botox — a story of a high-flying Miami Botox doctor to the stars who committed suicide after creating a Botox empire. And then, Dr. Death, the story of Dr. Dench who was horrible and incompetent as a spinal surgeon yet after botched patients he moved from hospital to hospital in the Dallas area. It explains the greed and selfishness of the medical industry and the slow building of a case and few heroic physicians who exposed his ways.

There was even time for a podcast on the DC snipers of more than a decade ago that explores their childhoods and lives and what went wrong — essentially everything — to create the desire by two men to randomly shoot people in Maryland and Virginia in the infamous sniper attacks.

These shows, while interesting, are not Dostoevsky and James Joyce and William Blake and the Greek Classics. Yet somehow the strange suffocation of traffic, the combination of anxiety, anger and hostility mixed with resignation that comes from hours stuck in traffic, leads me to find these shows palpable.

For this I also blame the impersonal and unapproachable and unassailable FDOT. After all, I had plans.

This past week I wanted to play tennis with my friend who is visiting from the north. I wanted to have dinner with my ever beautiful and enjoyable wife. I wanted to see my children. I wanted to have a love life full of adventure and spontaneity and leisure. I wanted to not drink coffee in my car and listen to the Baron of Botox.

This is what you are doing to us FDOT.

It got so bad one day last week I started listening to the story of Bill Cosby. The podcast was going to go into the rise and fall of Dr. Huxtable. I suddenly felt ashamed and guilty and turned it off.


Botox: the face’s final movement

I opted instead to look out the window at the ever glowing and iridescent waters of the intercoastal from the Ringling Bridge. I slowly noticed my vehicle side by side with a SCAT bus. I softened my attitude. “We are all in this together,” I thought in an ode to humanity. The SCAT bus did have darkened windows to hide the fact that it was empty, but that did not bother me.

As I crested on the Ringling Bridge and started my slow descent toward Downtown Sarasota, I counted my blessings. I thought if there was anywhere I would like to be stuck in traffic, it would be here.

Like the myth of Tantalus, all the art and fine dining and culture and my family I could almost reach. Only a sea of cars separates me from my desires. As I hit the pedal, the traffic stops in front and I tap the brakes. But then it moves. The movement is seductive.

There is no better place to die than in a car between St. Armands Circle and Sarasota. The Greeks prayed for the arrow of death to be swift and painless. Perhaps this is the new myth. Ever so slowly in the air conditioning next to SCAT bus we will all fade into the afterlife.

As my reverie continued, I got an alert on the podcast player on my phone. An update on the Barron of Botox just arrived. It was called: “Botox: the face’s final movement.” I immediately hit play and my journey in paradise continued at 4 miles per hour all the way home. I saw my wife and children at the door. I tried to smile, but somehow between the Botox podcast and the traffic I just kept staring ahead with my face frozen in the moment.


In the beginning, Barwin created traffic on earth…

Where did all of this traffic come from? Is this the new normal?

It all started a few years back when Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin, City planning staff and the FDOT camped out one weekend deep in the forest in Myakka on a Traffic Planning Vision Quest Weekend. They sought out a traffic-shaman-specialist and proceeded to hold their vision quest on the muddy banks of the Myakka River.

Soon, City Manager Tom Barwin went into a deep altered state. He shook and trembled and at first the FDOT staff though Barwin was having a seizure. But his eyes opened wide into the night like an alligator staring into a floodlight.

“ I see our future! I have Vision for our City!” he yelled out. “Roundabouts everywhere and speed bumps on St. Armands Circle all connected by a fat sidewalk we will call MURT.”

The City staff hugged Barwin and recognized his visioning powers.

That long night was half a decade ago. Fast-forward to today, and all of Barwin’s visions are coming to fruition.


The power of Don Quixote

I wish we could send Tom Barwin on a SCAT Bus to the Midwest. He could sit in front of a windmill and power our entire nation with the rush of wind that flows like a jet stream through his lips and through his initiatives.

Instead of losing the Mote Aquarium, the Players Theatre and perhaps the Sarasota Orchestra, he could focus his efforts into making that windmill spin faster and faster. Instead of trafficking roundabouts like so many odes to Samsara, he could power a million Tesla’s and light a million bridges with dazzling lights.

We could all honor Barwin. He would be the man who powered our nation through hot air and breezy rhetoric. We could forgive him for all of the work he has done in Sarasota.

Move over Elon Musk, Barwin’s stock is about to rise.

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3 Responses for “What Sarasota traffic, the FDOT, Tom Barwin, the Baron of Botox & DC Sniper have in common”

  1. Rick Crawford says:

    Great piece and so much more could be said.. For one example, the roundabout in front of Sarasota Bay Club on Tamiami has been going for at least two years in a perfect weather environment. Some days, I see two people or less working. Some days, nobody is around and on busy days you might see 10 workers.. Could have been done is 4 months and think about the roundabouts to come.. God help us! Oh, can’t forget the great timed stop lights in Sarasota. Think about the time, gas wasted by the city traffic workers who don’t work to improve the super long stop lights. 😐

  2. Steve Keller says:

    Well said Steve. Of FDOT and Sarasota Bureaucrats – it will be said “Never before in History have so many done so much to so many at such great expense”. In the private sector this level of incompetence would result in many heads rolling – but the Bureaucrats always live on like no see-ums at the Beach.

    Steve Keller
    Longboat Key

  3. Mike Hincker says:

    Great piece! Should be FDOT mandatory reading. Very apropos for me having today fought through about an hour of traffic on 75 to go about 15 miles, and of course fighting it every Monday we played at Longboat Key courts. I’m so looking forward to summer and the exit of the snowbirds, But I feel that will only solve part of the problem.

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