By Bob Frederickson
The $21 million Siesta Beach improvement project is on track to meet the county’s original goal for completion by early 2016, with Sarasota County project manager Brad Gaubatz telling Siesta Sand last week he expects ‘substantial-completion’ by January 21st, 2016.
It won’t come a moment too soon. Early signs point to increased traffic to the beach this season with the “Lot Full” signs having made an early pre-Thanksgiving appearance in recent weeks – thanks to ideal beach weather.
The much-anticipated project to enhance the crown jewel of the county’s park system has already met several of the benchmarks set for it at the outset. The ‘Siesta Sun Deck’ concession opened to positive reviews from locals and visitors alike early this past summer, with new menu items like pastries and crepes in the morning and hot paninis, flatbread pizzas and fresh salads for afternoon and early evening dining – all served up with great views of the beach throughout the day. Most of the work adjacent to the east end of the parking lot has been completed, including new tennis courts, a new maintenance building, and a playground and picnic area.
Still in the works, the finishing touches on two new pavilions and a remodeling of the old concession building that will house the Sheriffs’ department and lifeguard office; finishing touches also remain for the esplanade that will “tie everything together,” in the words of Gaubatz.
Built of decorative pavers, it directs pedestrians through the non-beach amenities before delivering them to the beach itself. There will be three pull-offs strategically located throughout the parking lot adjacent to this main walkway says Gaubatz, providing convenient drop off points for visitors and cargo alike; they were added to avoid the traffic backups that had become an all too familiar feature of the beach going routine with cars stopping in the lot’s travel lanes to unload passengers and their assorted beach ‘baggage.’
But it will likely be some of the lower profile changes that will have the greatest lasting impact for visitors and island residents alike. Key among these is a redesigned parking lot with 143 spaces added to the pre-project total of 840, a 17 percent increase; the added spaces should help dial back on the frustration factor for late arrivals (meaning after 9:30 AM on some some days) who have been known to circle the lot like frenzied land-sharks in a seemingly never-ending quest for an open spot on busy beach weekends – or any time during the busy spring break season.
Some of the project’s safety features include walkways strategically placed between rows of parked cars throughout the lot; they’re designed to minimize cases of cars or trucks backing into pedestrians traversing the parking areas. “The parking spaces are oriented in such a way that there are now walkways beach-goers can use so they don’t have to lug their coolers through the middle of the lot to get to the beach,” said Gaubatz. It’s a safety concept featured in most new shopping centers like those developed by Publix for their new stores.
Part of the new lot was paved with pervious concrete that will aid with runoff from heavy rain events, which may help reduce the flooding which is a periodic concern along nearby Beach Road.
Egress and ingress points will be updated to facilitate traffic flow and avoid ‘contact points’ (DOT lingo for potential accident hotspots) along Beach Road. The opportunity to make left turns across traffic will be dramatically reduced on both sides of Beach Road as a result of new medians that have appeared recently along the western section of Beach Road fronting the lots (across from the Crescent Royale Condominium). In addition, some of the older existing medians to the east have been extended and joined together, again with the aim of funneling traffic to prescribed turn lanes in order to reduce traffic delays and the risk of accidents that increase when continuous left turns are allowed.
The medians are also designed to enhance pedestrian safety by providing a refuge point of sorts midway across for those crossing Beach Road on foot from either direction.