City Police Department says it is monitoring the traffic, including the increase because of the Lift Station 87 project detour
Slightly more than 88% of the drivers who traveled on South Orange Avenue in Sarasota between Sept. 21 and Oct. 11 were speeding, according to a Sarasota Police Department traffic study released last month.
The majority of vehicles were traveling at 35 mph, though the posted speed limit is 25 mph, the study showed. The highest speed recorded was 51 mph, the report says, while the average speed was 31 mph.
The time of day during which the majority of speeding was recorded was the hour between 5 and 6 p.m., according to the data.
The total number of vehicles involved in the analysis was 5,687; of those, 5017 were speeding, the report shows.
South Orange residents expressed concerns during the summer about the potential for an increase in traffic problems after the City of Sarasota announced it would be closing Osprey Avenue no later than Aug. 1 to enable microtunneling under the Osprey bridge as part of the years-long effort to build Lift Station 87.
In the wake of the traffic study’s release, Anthony Centurione, capital projects engineer in the city’s Utilities Department, responded to one couple who live in the 1200 block of South Orange, telling them that the city would be willing to install a temporary speed table, if the majority of property owners in that immediate area requested such action by petition.
Centurione added in his Oct. 20 email that the speed table would be removed after Osprey Avenue reopened to traffic in 2017.
He attached a copy of the petition form on which the couple would need to get signatures and provided them with a list of the 17 property owners with whom they would need to speak. Centurione cautioned that 60% of the actual property owners would have to support the installation of the speed table; renters’ signatures would not be valid.
Further, Centurione wrote, city staff is considering moving a message board to McClellan Parkway near Osprey Avenue, “to alert drivers to the speed limit and/or traffic congestion.”
The couple responded a day later, telling Centurione in an email that they did not feel the burden should be placed on them to mount the petition drive. “It should be the responsibility of the city to protect the welfare of its residents when [the city is] presented with irrefutable evidence that [residents are] in harm’s way from speeding vehicles. In addition to temporary speed tables, lowering the speed limit and enforcing it is another option.”
After Centurione sought a recommendation from other city staff members about how to proceed, Assistant City Engineer Daniel Ohrenstein responded to the couple.
“[I]t is our policy to require signatures be gathered when we receive a request for speed tables in order to ensure we have grassroots support,” Ohrenstein wrote. “Otherwise, we may receive negative feedback from residents who feel they had not been consulted.”
Ohrenstein continued, “We also require signatures to ensure that residents understand they must do their part to drive the speed limit in the area. This is the same procedure we have required from other residents who have requested temporary speed tables due to the [Lift Station] 87 project, so our expectations are well within keeping with other requests.”
Moreover, Ohrenstein pointed out, “State regulations stipulate that we may not lower the speed limit below 25 mph in residential areas unless there are other factors involved, such as proximity to a school or park.”
He concluded his email, “Once you gather the signatures, we will be able to move forward with your request.”
A city commissioner’s view
The couple had copied City Commissioner Susan Chapman on the email exchanges with staff. As a result, on Oct. 25, Chapman wrote Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown, saying, “Law enforcement would really help. It is ridiculous not to manage any traffic compliance without law enforcement.”
Chapman copied City Manager Tom Barwin and Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino on that email.
Asked on Nov. 2 by The Sarasota News Leader whether she had received any reply from DiPino or other Police Department officials, Chapman said, “No.”
Thee News Leader then contacted Genevieve Judge, the partnership policing communications coordinator for the Police Department. Judge responded that she had checked with the department’s Traffic Unit. That division, she wrote in a Nov. 3 email, “has been keeping a close eye on this area since the South Osprey Bridge closure. They’ve increased their patrols in this area in an effort to monitor and control excessive traffic from the bridge closure.”
Judge also pointed out that the traffic study showed that 85% of the vehicles were not “traveling at an excessive speed.” Although the posted limit is 25 mph, she added, the Florida Statutes say that a vehicle must be moving at a speed greater than 6 mph above the posted limit before the driver can be issued a citation.
During the telephone interview with the News Leader this week, Chapman said of the couple’s request for a new speed table, “I don’t see it making any difference.”
Chapman pointed out that existing speed tables have not deterred South Orange traffic from exceeding the posted limit. “You take your life into your hands crossing the street,” she added, noting that she lives in the neighborhood.
In fact, she continued, a speed table in the 900 block recently was removed because vehicles were hitting it so hard, the vibrations caused cracks in the walls of a nearby house.
The long straightaways on the street merely encourage people to drive faster, she said. “High speeds [on South Orange] are not unusual.”
She lives close to the bridge, she added, and if she drives the length of South Orange to reach her destination, it is not uncommon for drivers to pass her.
As for the problem with extra vehicles because of the Osprey closure, Chapman pointed out that South Orange always has been popular as a more direct route from Siesta Key to downtown Sarasota, for example.
“It’s not clearly communicated that it is a residential street,” she said.
Nonetheless, Chapman said, with the closing of Osprey Avenue, traffic backups have become much more common. On the evening of Nov. 1, when the City Commission was holding a special meeting, she told the News Leader, she was nearly late arriving because of the clog of vehicles on South Orange. “Sometimes, traffic will be back up 2 miles.”
Judge emphasized to the News Leader that the Police Department’s Traffic Unit has been working with the Lift Station 87 project manager “in an effort to monitor and control any traffic flow issues.” She added that a public forum on the Lift Station initiative has been scheduled from 1 to 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 9, in the City Hall Annex in downtown Sarasota. Members of the public are welcome to raise any issues about traffic on South Orange at that time, she pointed out.