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Longboat helps steer Sarasota traffic plan

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

Longboat Key Town leaders helped convince a majority of the Sarasota City Commissioners to not adopt a major transportation plan last week that focused primarily on pedestrians and bicyclists rather than the efficient movement of automobile traffic.

The City of Sarasota has been working for years fashioning what it calls “Sarasota in Motion,” a transportation master plan.

City staff members, as well as the consultant to Sarasota, argue that the City should prioritize walking, biking and mass transit as it looks to the evolution of Sarasota over the next 25 years.

The Master Plan proposes spending about $120 million on 39 projects centering on pedestrians, biking and mass transportation. Only one roadway improvement is included in the proposal, which is to widen a portion of South Tamiami Trail.

The consultant and City staff were hoping that the Sarasota Commission would vote to adopt the plan at the meeting last week, but after considering testimony from Longboat Key as well as dissent primarily from Sarasota City Commissioners Hagen Brody and Shelli Freeland Eddie, the plan was “accepted” as a guiding document rather than “adopted,” which would have meant it would be funded and implemented.

Longboat Key Mayor Ken Schneier wrote a letter prior to the Sarasota City Commission  meeting stating, “We recognize the future pedestrian and bicycle needs that the City is emphasizing, but we are experiencing significant real-time traffic congestion that is impacting the quality of life for the City and residents now.”

Of chief concern to Schneier and Longboat Key Commissioners is that the limited access and method for evacuating Longboat Key remains as uncongested as possible and that any transportation planning encompasses the region and the movement of vehicles on and off of the barrier islands.

Longboat Mayor Schneier specifically asked that the City of Sarasota Commission incorporate the following in the transportation plan:

• Preservation of the number, width and capacity of lanes on Fruitville Road, Tamiami Trail and other routes of ingress and egress and evacuation from the barrier islands.

• Continued focus on seasonal traffic congestion from the islands to downtown, including measurement metrics, with the goal of decreasing traffic times.

• Planning and implementation of alternative modes of transportation to the barrier islands including water taxis, cable cars, improved mass transit, and alternate and counterflow lanes on the bridges.

• Adoption of specific, recommended measures to remedy known bottlenecks by, for example, annually employing crossing guards at St. Armand’s Circle, in Season, removing obstructive parking slots and calming devices at St. Armand’s, constructing pedestrian overpasses at US 41 and improving signalized traffic flow at Ken Thompson Parkway and elsewhere.

 

Roundabout worries…

Longboat Key has lobbied against the plan by the City of Sarasota and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to install a roundabout at the base of the Ringling Bridge on Gulfstream and US 41.

The Town hired an engineer to evaluate the data the FDOT used to justify the efficiency in moving traffic through the proposed roundabout.

Schneier and the Town want the roundabout to be monitored and evaluated with an option for returning it to a signalized intersection if it proves to be an impediment.

 

Failure to adopt

Sarasota City Commissioner Liz Alpert spoke in support of adopting the Sarasota in Motion plan, and made the motion to adopt the Master Plan, which failed in a 3-2 vote.

Alpert said she thought the plan was community-driven and that the City needed to make bold improvements to the vehicular traffic grid.

Sarasota City Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch was the only other vote, aside from Alpert, in support of adopting the Master Plan.

Brody said he was tired of surveys with loaded questions designed to garner a specific result. He added that he thought the plan did a great job in improving pedestrian and bicycle access in the City, but it did not address making it easier for people to drive to and from the City and within the City.

Brody also faulted recommendations in the plan for more “road diets,” which narrow existing roadways in order to expand sidewalks and add bicycle lanes.

After the adoption motion failed, City Commissioner Willie Shaw made a motion to “accept” the Master Plan as presented as a template to allow the City to pursue funding for various projects. That motion passed.

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