Another fatal accident reported in Siesta Drive/Higel Avenue curve on north Siesta Key

Make Siesta Drive Safer committee members renew call for more measures to reduce risk of incidents

A vehicle begins the sharp right turn from Higel Avenue onto Siesta Drive on the north end of Siesta Key. Rachel Hackney photo

Officers with the Sarasota Police Department are continuing their investigation into a fatal motorcycle accident that occurred in the early morning hours of Feb. 16 at the intersection of Siesta Drive and Higel Avenue, Genevieve Judge, the department’s public information officer, has reported.

The intersection was closed from approximately midnight until 5 a.m., Judge added.

It was the fourth fatal accident in the same 2-mile stretch of Siesta Drive in two years, the chair of a neighborhood activist group pointed out to The Sarasota News Leader.

Members of Make Siesta Drive Safer (MSDS), a committee of the Bay Island Siesta Association, have been urging City and County of Sarasota leaders and representatives of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) since 2017 to take steps to — as their organization’s name makes clear — make Siesta Drive safer.

Just after midnight on Feb. 16, a motorcyclist was traveling northbound on Higel Avenue when the person apparently lost control of the vehicle, Judge explained in a press release. The driver then was struck by another vehicle that was traveling southbound, she added. The motorcyclist died at the scene as a result of the injuries sustained in the incident, Judge wrote.

The next of kin of the motorcyclist had not been notified, Judge noted in her Feb. 16 news release; therefore, she was unable to release the victim’s name.

As of late on the night of Feb. 19, Judge told the News Leader, she still had no further information from the investigating officers about the victim or the incident.

Signs on both sides of the road warn northbound drivers on Higel Avenue of the upcoming sharp curve and suggest they reduce their speed. Rachel Hackney photo

It was unknown whether speed, drugs or alcohol contributed to the accident, Judge wrote on Feb. 16.

In a statement it released on Feb. 16, the MSDS committee wrote that it “is saddened to learn of yet another fatal accident at the curve of Siesta Drive and Higel Avenue …”

Based on information the members had received, the statement added that the driver of the motorcycle was struck by a van that was traveling south on the road.

“Our group is even more concerned for the fact that, even after we have carefully documented the high number of accidents at this location, and informed FDOT, only minor modifications have been made by FDOT,” the statement added. Those changes, it continued, have not proven “sufficient to get drivers to slow down enough to navigate the curve safely.”

After taking FDOT representatives on a site visit in the summer of 2017, members of the Bay Island Siesta Association and Make Siesta Drive Safer won agreement from FDOT to reduce the speed limit in the vicinity of the Higel/Siesta Drive curve and to enhance the warning signs for drivers on both the northbound and southbound approaches.

The speed limit was dropped from 40 mph to 30 mph.

FDOT also had considered installing several “Qwick Kurb” devices in an effort to keep vehicles in their lanes, but a department spokesman later told the News Leaderthat FDOT had decided not to pursue that option. The Qwick Kurb poles, which are flexible, stand about 3 feet tall and are anchored into the asphalt.

A graphic shows plans for restriping at the Siesta Drive/Higel Avenue intersection, which was completed in 2018. Image courtesy Bay Island Siesta Association

FDOT did re-stripe the curve in an effort to provide clearer indications to drivers about where they should be on the road as they navigate through the curve.

Among the other new measures FDOT installed, electronic signs light up if a vehicle is traveling faster than the posted 30-mph speed on the approach to the curve. The signs flash a warning to slow down.

Make Siesta Drive Safer members have been encouraged by the prospect that Sarasota County will be taking over control of Siesta Drive west of U.S. 41, as well as Higel Avenue, after a road swap is completed later this year. That swap will give FDOT authority over River Road in South County in exchange for the northern part of Midnight Pass Road, Higel, Siesta Drive and Stickney Point Road west of U.S. 41.

County commissioners and county staff had anticipated the swap would occur before the end of 2018. However, changes in the timeline for a project on River Road led to the delay, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis explained to the News Leaderin January.

As the News Leader recently reported, county staff is hopeful that the County Commission will be able to vote on the final Road Transfer Agreement before the end of April.

MSDS renewing requests for safety measures

A graphic created by Make Siesta Drive Safer shows the locations of accidents on Siesta Drive and Higel Avenue between 2012 and 2015. Image courtesy Make Siesta Drive Safer

In the statement released to the News Leader following the Feb. 16 accident, Make Siesta Drive Safer reported that its representatives met in October 2018 with County Engineer Spencer Anderson. “[O]ur committee was asked to assist in filling in the County staff on our communications with FDOT, which we did with a [PowerPoint] presentation which documented all of our combined efforts since April 2017,” the statement added.

While all the facts were not available as of the weekend, MSDS statement continued, “[Y]esterday’s accident plays into the common scenario of most crashes here, where the northbound traffic does not understand/appreciate the severity of the curve that is upcoming. Yes, we understand that the County is adverse to using speed bumps, but there is a DEFINITE NEED for something to alert drivers to the danger of this curve,” the statement emphasized.

“The Make Siesta Drive Safer Committee is convinced that our specific asks for actions along this corridor remain appropriate (see below) and [its members] are committed to working with Sarasota County in any way to achieve these goals,” the statement pointed out. “We have reached out several times so far this year in an effort to continue collaboration with the County, but have yet to hear back from them. This recent tragedy will be our call to action to turn up the volume so they hear us, and allow us to help in eliminating the ongoing parade of fatalities that we are seeing here in our neighborhood,” the statement said.

Make Siesta Drive Safer members are advocating for a crosswalk on Higel Avenue between Shell Road (right) and Roberts Point Road. Rachel Hackney photo

The following are the Make Siesta Drive Safer requests for improvements along the 2-mile segment of Siesta Drive and Higel Avenue, the statement added:

  • Lower the speed limit along the full length of the corridor to 30 mph.
  • Address the safety issues in the Siesta Drive/Higel curve. (In an email County Engineer Anderson sent county leaders in early February to update them on the road swap timeline, he pointed out that the Road Transfer Agreement is expected to define terms for FDOT to make improvements to the 90-degree curve at the Higel/Siesta Drive intersection.)
  • Put in at least two crosswalks (at Shell Road and Hamilton Avenue).