Getting Around – Proposed Sarasota Transportation Alternatives

Sarasota Traffic Plan Includes Adding 16 Roundabouts

getting aroundOptions for getting around Sarasota could soon evolve from car or bus rides to trips on commuter rails, water taxis and new bike and pedestrian paths.

City planners and engineers presented ideas for alternative transportation at a City Commission workshop Monday afternoon as residents have grown increasingly frustrated with increasing traffic congestion.

In addition to transportation alternatives, city officials also proposed lots of roundabouts as a way to reduce accidents and smooth traffic flow.

City officials want to add 16 roundabouts to Sarasota roads by 2023, including nine in the downtown core. Six would dot U.S. 41 north of Fruitville Road, while one would be on Siesta Drive just east of U.S. 41.

Engineers cited National Cooperative Highway Research Program statistics showing that roundabouts result in a 35 percent reduction of all intersection crashes and a 76 percent reduction in serious injury and fatal crashes.

They also said the traffic circles are safer for pedestrians and reduce rush-hour delays.

The first of the new traffic circles would be built along U.S. 41 at the intersection of 10th Street near the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and at 14th Street near Whitaker Gateway Park by 2017. It could cost more than $42 million to complete all 16.

But the roundabouts are only a piece of the proposed transportation picture. Additional options include:

  • A pilot water taxi service would have stops at Centennial Park, Mote Marine, Siesta Key’s north bridge and Marina Jack. Eventually, if Manatee County agrees, the ferries could take people from Siesta Key’s North Bridge to Holmes Beach, Palmetto and downtown Bradenton.
  • A commuter rail could revive a long dormant north-south railroad track between U.S. 41 and U.S. 301, making stops at the airport and at a future downtown transportation hub near Lime Avenue and Fruitville Road.
  • Fixed-rail street cars — which could cost between $1.3 and $1.9 million — would circulate downtown on one of four routes.
  • Rapid bus transit lines would run along Bee Ridge Road, Fruitville Road, south U.S. 41, north U.S. 41 and along University Parkway and U.S. 301.
  • Trolley routes to the beaches and downtown would also be expanded.

While many of these ideas sound far-off, city officials have been working on a zoning overhaul since 2013.

City Engineer Alex DavisShaw, the city’s engineer, said it could be 2031 before all of the initiatives are completed, if the city approves them.

“Looking at the big picture, the downtown circular and roundabouts on U.S. 41 will be huge game-changers,” DavisShaw said. “Not just the multi-modal forms of transportation, but it will change the way traffic feels in Sarasota.”

But Commissioner Susan Chapman questioned the effectiveness of the measures when compared to the cost.

“I think that’s the whole issue — you have to really plan and actually find out who is going to stop driving to take transit,” Chapman said.

Chapman said she has visited other tourist destinations where visitors often use transportation alternatives. But she added she was unimpressed by how few people used the Lido Key circular trolley on the Fourth of July weekend. The free service shuttled boat race revelers from downtown to Lido Key.

“From what I heard, it was free and people still didn’t use it,” she said.

Herald Tribune July 16, 2016