Traffic Advisory Council unanimously opposes petitions for lower speed limits and multi-way stop signs
By Rachel Brown Hackney
Three times on Sept. 9, a representative of the Siesta Isles Association Board of Directors asked the Sarasota County Traffic Advisory Council (TAC) to allow changes in the neighborhood to make conditions safer for the residents.
And three times, the council members voted unanimously to support staff’s recommendations, not what the Siesta Isles board was seeking.
“We’re trying to slow things down and make it less convenient” for drivers to cut through Siesta Isles on their way between Siesta Public Beach and Siesta Village “when traffic gets queued up on Midnight Pass Road and Beach Road,” Tony Romanus explained.
The neighborhood has 297 single-family homes, Amjid Hussain, an engineer with the county’s Traffic Engineering & Operations Division, told the TAC members. “There are no sidewalks or bike lanes.”
“Every single thing we have asked for, we have been told, ‘No,’” Romanus told the TAC.
The county no longer has a program that enables community associations to install traffic calming devices, he pointed out.
“In the meantime, we have 1,400 cars a day in season blazing through the neighborhood,” Romanus said. “You’re my last hour for hope.”
The closest Romanus came to success was during the first hearing, when the TAC members approved a reduction in the speed limit on Glebe Lane from 30 mph to 25 mph. The Siesta Isles Association board had sought a switch to 20 mph.
During the second hearing, which focused on a petition to reduce the speed limit in Siesta Isles itself from 25 mph to 20 mph, Hussain pointed to data that county staff had collected in the neighborhood on a Wednesday and a Thursday. He said the results indicated that no change was necessary, based on federal traffic standards.
Romanus countered, “Siesta Key Beach and [Siesta Village] are much busier on weekends.”
Nonetheless, the TAC sided with staff.
At the conclusion of the final hearing, TAC Chair Becky Ayech expressed her sympathy with the neighborhood association’s efforts to get multi-way stop signs installed at four intersections, so GPS devices and apps such as Waze no longer would recommend drivers cut through Siesta Isles. Yet, acting on the standards in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) — as staff had advised — Ayech joined her colleagues in denying the request.
If the multi-way stop signs were erected at the four intersections noted in the Siesta Isles application to the TAC, Romanus had explained, GPS software and the apps would be less likely to direct traffic through Siesta Isles.
The intersections are as follows:
• Shadow Law Drive at Shadow Lawn Way.
• Shadow Lawn Drive at Contento Drive.
• Cape Leyte Lane at Beach Way Drive.
• Cape Leyte Lane at Canal Road.
Hussain again pointed to the criteria staff uses to analyze whether a request meets the standards for approval under the aegis of the MUTCD. In this case, he continued, none of the four intersections where the Siesta Isles Association (SIA) board sought the multi-way stop signs earned enough points under those criteria for the signs to be erected.
Moreover, he continued, “If we install unwarranted stop signs, angle crashes increase. Drivers ignore [the signs]. Drivers drive based on their perception [of the conditions on a road].”
Thus, Hussain added, staff had to recommend that the TAC deny the requests.
After TAC member Mary Glidden-Williams made the motion to deny the installation of the stop signs, and Vice Chair Bruce Lorie seconded it, Chair Ayech told Romanus, “Sir, I am so sympathetic with what you are saying … I have gone through the exact same thing where I live.”
A vote to deny the request for the stop signs, she continued, “is what the law requires … The County Commission has said, ‘No, you can’t use stop signs for traffic calming devices.’ I don’t agree with them.”
Ayech told Romanus, “I wish that I had something that I could offer you as a solution. Unfortunately, I don’t.”
In a statement he issued to SNL after the hearing, Romanus pointed out that the petitions he presented on Sept. 9 were the result of two years of work by a committee of the Siesta Isles Association. “We’ve had quite a few interactions with County employees. We have had some success. County staff has improved some signage in our neighborhood and on Beach Road. They also cleared some trees inhibiting visibility and pressed a resident to clear some plants from their yard,” he wrote. “All this is helpful.”
Nonetheless, he continued, “We’ve also had a lot of frustration. We’re laypeople who are looking for solutions. We typically don’t know what alternatives exist to solve the problems we encounter. Other than the successes noted above we’ve not been given solutions. As I type this, after two years of work, the County is not offering any solution to our primary problem: too many vehicles speeding through our neighborhood. “Time will tell if the Board of County Commissioners changes that.”
Ayech, the TAC chair, did point out on Sept. 9 that Romanus would be able to present his petitions to the County Commission. SNL was unable to learn, prior to the publication of this issue of Siesta Sand, when those hearings would be scheduled. Typically, they are held several months after the TAC conducts its hearings.
Romanus did add in his email, “Our interaction with Sheriff Tom Knight and his Siesta Key team has been excellent.”
The Sheriff’s Office conducted an eight-day traffic study in the neighborhood in March 2018, Romanus told the TAC members. Its findings found much higher traffic counts and far greater speeds than the county study, he pointed out. “Forty-eight percent of the cars they clocked were speeding,” he told the TAC, “and a handful were over 65 mph.”