County Commission receives a report on the effort to improve Fruitville between U.S. 301 and U.S. 41 to increase pedestrian safety and enhance the road’s appearance
In response to a Sarasota Commission directive, county staff has provided more details about the City of Sarasota’s efforts to improve Fruitville Road between U.S. 41 and U.S. 301, including making it safer for pedestrians to cross from the downtown core to the Rosemary and Gillespie Park neighborhoods, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.
Additionally, city staff is working to nail down a date for the fourth public stakeholder meeting on the project’s objectives, a Jan. 22 report to the County Commission says.
Although Feb. 17 had been proposed for that next session, Jan Thornburg, senior communications manager for the city, wrote the News Leader in a Feb. 3 email, “Staff is looking for a different date.”
Among other objectives of the corridor changes — originally suggested in the city’s Downtown Master Plan — are slowing traffic speeds without creating a negative impact on the current levels of service; enhancing “the aesthetic value of one of the primary gateways into the City”; and promoting economic development and vitality of the corridor, the report says.
A question about the city’s initiative arose during the County Commission’s Jan. 13 meeting, when it was discussing priorities proposed for the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO)
The city has hired Sam Schwartz Engineering of Tampa as a consultant for the project, the county board report continues.
Problems and proposals
In its Aug. 17, 2015 Scope of Services for the Fruitville Road Streetscape Enhancement Project, the Schwartz team wrote, “Fruitville Road serves as a gateway into the City of Sarasota and [the] Downtown Business District and it provides direct access from the barrier islands and downtown environs to Interstate 75.” However, the road also is designated as an emergency evacuation route, and it has an average daily vehicle trip generation numbering 15,000, with “speeds that can often exceed 50 mph,” the document says.
“Motor vehicles dominate the existing conditions and intersections have become increasingly more difficult to traverse,” says a Nov. 17, 2015 presentation prepared for a stakeholders meeting. “Most development along the roadway lacks pedestrian scale design and a sense of quality architectural attributes. … Negative impressions and perceptions of the area have contributed to a lack of investment in recent years.”
The presentation points to overhead power lines; the absence of landscaping in places; and the fact that Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) “users’ knees are inches from traffic” at bus stops.
Among possible corridor improvements, the Schwartz team pointed out, are the creation of wider sidewalks as well as bicycle lanes; the possible reduction or elimination of turning lanes and center islands; increased landscaping and lighting; and the possible creation of parallel parking spaces.
To-date, the county board report notes, city staff has completed traffic and turning movement counts, including data involving pedestrians and bicyclists. The Nov. 17, 2015 presentation features numerous images and charts showing the results; they are available on the city’s website.
For example, of the 369 crashes recorded in the corridor between October 2010 and October 2015, about 155 of them were rear-end collusions, or 42 percent of the total. “The national rate for rear-end crashes is 40%,” the presentation says.
During the same period, 11 crashes occurred involving pedestrians or bicyclists, especially at the intersections of Cocoanut, Lemon and Orange avenues, the presentation shows.
The major causes of those crashes are excessive speed, unsafe lane changes, tailgating and inattention of drivers, the presentation notes. A higher collision rate was found during lunchtime, it adds. Total traffic volumes during the midday and afternoon peak hours “are almost the same,” it says.
The presentation also includes information about Levels of Service at various intersections with Fruitville Road. (Level of Service refers to a user’s perception of a transportation facility, according to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT); grades range from A (best) to F (worst).)
As for Levels of Service during 2015, the presentation points out that the intersection of U.S. 41 and Fruitville Road operates at Level D during the morning, midday and afternoon peak hours; the intersection of U.S 301 and Fruitville Road operates at Level D during the morning peak hour and at Level E during the midday and afternoon peak hours.
Overall, for the intersection of Fruitville Road and Orange Avenue, the Level of Service earns a C during the morning and midday peak hours and a D during the afternoon peak hour, the presentation adds. “The westbound and eastbound approaches [to that intersection] operate with [Levels of Service] C or D during all peak hours,” the presentation points out.
The original proposed schedule called for the potential of the last public meeting on the project in late February, with a proposal to be brought to the City Commission in March, the Schwartz document says.
City staff is continuing to accept comments through the city website, email and phone calls, the county report notes. Additionally, city staff has reached out to the MPO, county staff and emergency management personnel, the report says.
Another update will be provided after more information becomes available, the report concludes.