FDOT nixes beach ball signs

The beach ball sign was designed by a staff member of Visit Sarasota County. Courtesy image

The Florida Department of Transportation has ended Siesta residents’ dreams of seeing yellow-and-white beach ball signs replace the brown Siesta No. 1 Beach signs at Sarasota County Area Transit stops.

An Aug. 20 memo to the County Commission from Rob Lewis, the county’s director of planning and development services, says of the beach ball design, “Staff is advised that this is not a sign that FDOT would allow to be on their roadway” because it does not comply with guidelines in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

That manual is published by the Federal Highway Administration.

Commissioner Nora Patterson, who lives on Siesta Key, told The Sarasota News Leader Aug. 22, “Well, I just thought [the beach ball signs] were cute.”

The beach ball sign idea originated with Lourdes Ramirez, president of the Sarasota County Council of Neighborhood Associations, who also lives on Siesta Key.

“But, truly, there are opinions that we ought to take [the current signs] down at the end of the year anyway,” Patterson said.

The current Siesta No. 1 beach signs may come down at the end of this year. File photo

The brown signs were attached to SCAT signs on roads leading to Siesta Key just before Labor Day weekend in 2011. Lewis told the commissioners at the time that the design was in keeping with other county and state park signage and, therefore, in compliance with zoning and other regulations.

The signs marked Siesta Public Beach’s ranking as the No. 1 beach in the United States for 2011-12. That honor was bestowed by Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman of Florida International University in Miami; he is known internationally as “Dr. Beach” for his annual list of the top beaches in the nation.

In May, Leatherman made Coronado Beach in the San Diego area his new No. 1 beach. As long as Siesta Public Beach does not decline in quality, he has said, it will stay on the list he maintains of past No. 1 beaches.

After county staff put up the signs in 2011, many Siesta residents — including Patterson — complained that they were unattractive.

The beach ball logo was designed by an employee of Visit Sarasota County, formerly the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau. It has been used on marketing materials to promote the county to tourists.

Lewis’ Aug. 20 memo notes the county zoning administrator issued a determination on May 14 that the beach ball logo could not be viewed as a wayfinding sign that could be placed on the SCAT signs. After learning that news, the County Commission asked staff to research whether some other way could be found, consistent with the county zoning code, to place the signs at SCAT stops, the memo adds.

A zoning amendment adopted by the County Commission in 2011 “included exemptions for the County that were not extended to the general public,” the memo says. “The placement of signs is allowed within the rights-of-way only if placed in conjunction with traffic controlling devices as defined by the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) …”

The memo noted, “Extensive research has been done in creating the MUTCD to determine the effectiveness and standards of various colors, shapes, text sizes, messages, and fonts for use on traffic control devices. The proposed [beach ball] sign is a round, white and yellow sign with blue text and a URL.”

(The URL is for numberonebeach.com, a website for which the SCVB was able to obtain rights after Siesta’s No. 1 ranking.)

The memo continues, “There is no message for drivers. White and yellow backgrounds have specific meanings for traffic control devices, which don’t apply to this sign.”

Further, the memo says, “There are no approved MUTCD signs that use blue text, although blue backgrounds … are used. Round signs typically designate railroads. URLs displayed on signs are a distracting driving hazard.”

The memo adds, “The proposed design does not follow any of the standards for a traffic control device.”

It concludes, “Based on information obtained from our Traffic Operations division, as well as FDOT, staff does not recommend the placement of the ‘beach ball’ signs (with the elimination of the website address) on the bus stop signs.”

“If we can’t do it,” Patterson told the News Leader, “we can’t do it.”