Siesta Key Transportation Study aims to move into phase two

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By Rachel Brown Hackney

   Sarasota County Transportation Planning Division staff is seeking funding for the second phase of the Siesta Key Transportation Study that it commissioned last year, so it can proceed with more detailed comparisons of feasibility, funding and permitting options.

   Kwamena Sankah, a county transportation engineer, gave that update to the County Commission on May 5, after it heard a presentation on the study. Sankah pointed out that public workshops would be a facet of that second phase.

   Additionally, Sankah noted, staff will work to implement elements of proposed projects on the Key that are feasible, funding-wise, as it works on Capital Improvement Project budgets. Among those, he said, are bicycle and pedestrian safety improvements on the northern part of the barrier island, as well as traffic-calming measures.

   For example, the study led by Jason Collins of the ADEAS-Q firm in Tampa called for better signage to alert motorists about speed reductions ahead on Siesta roads, including the drop from 35 mph to 20 mph in Siesta Village. A chart included in the presentation that Collins showed the commissioners indicated that the expense per sign would be $5,000.

   Yet another short-range option staff would pursue, Sankah indicated, calls for the development of a bike-sharing plan with a private vendor.

Potential beach parking revenue should fund SK traffic improvements

   The presentation did spark a renewal of commission discussion about charging for parking at the public beaches on Siesta Key. 

   Commissioner Alan Maio, who represents the portion of the island in District 4, noted that, in concert with earlier board workshops on the issue, the three primary leadership organizations on Siesta — the Siesta Key Association (SKA), the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce and the Siesta Key Condominium Council — surveyed their members on the paid-parking proposal. “Their surveys were slightly different,” Maio added. However, if he recalled correctly, he continued, “A very high percentage” of respondents wanted to ensure that if the commission chose to implement a paid-parking program, all county residents would be able to park for free.

   Moreover, Maio said, the vast majority of respondents wanted to see at least some of the funds the county collected go toward extending the life of the Siesta Key Breeze, the open-air trolley, which is free to riders. State grant funds have supported the Breeze’s operation since it was launched in March 2017.

   “I would agree with that observation, as well,” Collins told Maio, referring to putting the parking revenue to use on Siesta. 

   Collins did recommend that if a paid-parking program were to be put in place, the commission implement it at both Siesta Public Beach and Turtle Beach at the same time. Otherwise, he said, too much pressure would be put on the facilities where no fees were charged.

   Maio said he did not believe the commissioners ever had voted on whether to implement paid parking on Siesta. Seeing no colleague contradicting him on that point, he told Collins, “That’ll be another big hurdle for you.”

   Chair Michael Moran did voice concern about whether the majority of people using the parking lots would be county residents, who would not be generating revenue. If 100% of those parking at the beaches were doing so for free, Moran said, “You just ran around the tree.”

   Data is available from different firms that track cellphone locations, Collins replied. That should provide the answer about the percentage of county residents, compared to others using the parking lots. 

   “We need that,” Commissioner Christian Ziegler said. 

Ziegler also concurred with Maio about parking revenue being directed to transportation projects on the island, including, perhaps, the operation of the Breeze.

   “Also makes a lot of sense to make [parking] free for all county residents,” Ziegler added.

A plethora of other proposals

Before Collins began his presentation, Spencer Anderson, director of the county’s Public Works Department, explained that staff hired ADEAS-Q to evaluate a series of transportation alternatives for Siesta Key.

   “This is a constrained roadway,” Anderson emphasized of the island’s transportation network. “There’s very little room to work …”

   He noted that the county will be assuming authority over Siesta roads later this year, in a swap with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), so the latter has control over River Road in South County. “It’s important … we have some ideas,” Anderson continued, for more creative means to alleviate traffic congestion on the island.

   Among the 18 proposals identified in the study, Collins pointed out, are creating protected pathways for bicyclists, as five different sections of roadway provide slim space for them between motorists’ lanes and sidewalks. “It’s a very uncomfortable feeling,” he said, for bicyclists to have to be so close to vehicles.

   Collins also talked about the lack of sidewalks on the east side of South Midnight Pass Road in the vicinity of Old Stickney Point Road, a situation which prompts people to walk in the road. 

   “I certainly support sidewalks,” Commissioner Nancy Detert told him. “We should have had sidewalks a long time ago” on Midnight Pass Road between Stickney Point Road and Siesta Public Beach, she added.

   Yet another proposal, Collins said, is for roundabouts at the intersections of Higel Avenue/Midnight Pass Road and Higel Avenue/Ocean Boulevard. He called those plans “a great potential to improve upon the crash severity that can occur there at those two intersections.” The roundabouts also would alleviate “some of the congestion, especially going southbound.” 

   A means of easing traffic on the Key headed to the beaches, he said, would be to make information about open spaces in the parking lots available on apps.

   Commissioner Ziegler indicated strong interest in that idea. “I think that’d be a great service.” If motorists had such information, Ziegler added, that would eliminate “driving around for 30 minutes, trying to find a parking space.”

   “That roaming effect … does add to congestion,” Collins replied.

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