By John Morton
Concerned about the ever-growing chaotic congestion on Siesta Key, Sarasota County commissioner Mark Smith on April 11 received support from his colleagues to explore some measures to combat safety issues.
For starters, he’d like to expand the speed cushion pilot program to the south business district, namely at where both Stickney Point Road and Old Stickney Point Road cross Midnight Pass Road – outside of the Captain Curt’s Village.
“There is a lot of crossing there with people going to the beach,” said Smith, who resides on the Key.
If the approved 120-room hotel toward the end of Old Stickney Point Road is built, that area will likely be even busier with pedestrians.
As for cars approaching the area, from the north on Midnight Pass Road they converge with what is often gridlock traffic coming off the south bridge. From the south on Midnight Pass Road, they are leaving behind a speed limit of 40 mph a short distance behind them. In August, an SUV struck and injured a father and two of his children – one of whom he held in his arms – at the Old Stickney Road intersection.
The speed cushions, that come in the form of small bumps, would be the same as those installed last year along Ocean Boulevard where motorists enter the Village from the north. They are placed across the width of the road and are designed to encourage drivers to slow down to about 15 mph to handle smoothly. However, they are narrow enough for emergency vehicles to straddle, not impeding their travel.
Secondly, Smith has asked that a special traffic model be created by the county for Siesta Key, including input from two residents who have a history with the subject – Bill Oliver and Jim Wallace.
A traffic model is a mathematical model that includes the study of traffic flow in relation to road width and other factors while drawing heavily on theoretical foundations. Models can teach researchers and engineers how to ensure optimal flow with a minimum number of traffic jams.
Smith said the existing traffic models produced by the county don’t adequately take into consideration non-car issues and scenarios – namely the large presence of pedestrians.
Smith noted that beyond pedestrians, the Key is loaded with bicycles, golf carts, skateboards, scooters, and many other conveyances.
“It’s an experimental lab on how to move people,” he said of the scene. “I’ve seen more golf carts on Siesta Key than on most golf courses.”
Oliver is a traffic impact expert consultant and spoke as an opponent to the new 170-room hotel approved for Calle Miramar near the Village. Wallace, who was formerly a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the 2021 hotel approvals, fought the FDOT in a losing effort to not erect traffic signals along Stickney Point Road at Avenue B & C at what will be the entrance to the upcoming Siesta Promenade project.
Smith told commissioners that he’s heard that such a model could costs between $150,000 and $200,000 to develop, but it would likely play a role in saving much more than $200,000 in county attorney fees when you consider the danger of so much roadway congestion as cars and pedestrians try to coexist.
“It should help avoid future litigation,” said Smith, noting the study could also help play a role in land-use decisions and possible requests for special exceptions related to them.
Smith said both the Siesta Key Association civic group and the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce support the study.