FDOT says it would not perform traffic signal re-timing to accommodate Siesta Promenade project

Department staff seeks numerous clarifications regarding Kimley-Horn traffic analyses for the proposed mix-use development

An aerial view shows the intersection at Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41. Image from Google Maps

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is seeking a number of clarifications from the consulting firm Kimley-Horn and Associates of Sarasota regarding its traffic studies for the proposed Siesta Promenade mixed-use project, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.

In a document he emailed to Kimley-Horn and Sarasota County Planning and Development Services Department staff on May 4, Nathan Kautz, a traffic services engineer with FDOT’s District One, pointed out, for example, “This development cannot count on new signal timings. Our corridors are re-timed approximately once every five years or so. There is no set schedule.”

Kautz was responding on behalf of FDOT staff to the material Kimley-Horn submitted in March, when it replied to questions FDOT and Sarasota County Transportation Planning staff had provided in reviews of the latest proposals from Benderson Development for Siesta Promenade.

Planned for the northwest corner of the U.S. 41/Stickney Point Road intersection, Siesta Promenade would have 414 residential units, a 130-room hotel and 140,000 square feet of retail/commercial space, based on updated documents Benderson Development delivered to the county in March.

In January 2017, the Sarasota County Commission approved a request by Benderson Development for the county to consider designating its Siesta Promenade proposal a Critical Area Plan (CAP). Ultimate CAP approval would give Benderson more leeway with dwelling-unit density. In the meantime, the County Commission action enabled county staff to request more intensive studies than if Benderson had pursued a regular rezoning process for approximately 24 acres that long was the site of a mobile home park.

The very last line in Kautz’s 1¼-page response on May 4 was, “As traffic from [Siesta Promenade] increases, so do the frequency” of expected traffic backups on U.S. 41 at the Stickney Point Road intersection.

In its mid-March update, Kimley-Horn wrote that its analysis of road conditions and traffic counts following a February 2017 analysis “assumed signal re-timing as project mitigation, including the signal cycle length at the intersection of [State Road] 72/Stickney Point Road & US 41.”

While changing the timing of that signal “may make the intersection of US 41 and SR 72 seem to function better,” Katz replied on May 4, “[that] would serve to throw off the rest of the signal corridor along US 41.”

Katz added, “Please confirm the turn lane queues [at that intersection] were performed with current signal timings.”

A graphic in Benderson’s March materials shows plans for Siesta Promenade. Image courtesy Sarasota County

One of the primary focuses of Kimley-Horn’s recommendations has been a traffic signal at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C. In its March report, the firm also noted that its traffic analysis showed that during the weekday afternoon peak traffic time for that proposed signalized intersection, the maximum queue for the westbound approach to the intersection was predicted to be one vehicle. However, its Saturday peak-hour analysis showed the number would be 13.

“One vehicle still seems unrealistic,” Kautz wrote.

Kimley-Horn’s report added, “The intersection of [Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41] is approximately 1,000 feet from the intersection of [Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C]. Therefore, the westbound queue at the intersection of SR 72 & Avenue B & C is not anticipated to back up into the signal at the intersection of SR 72 & US 41.”

Kimley-Horn and Associates provided these details about its traffic analyses in a June 2017 document delivered to Sarasota County staff. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Residents who live in the area of the proposed project — and a number on Siesta Key — have complained that the periods of the days Kimley-Horn conducted its traffic analysis did not match peak traffic times for beach-goers during high tourist season.

In a related issue, Kautz pointed out in his May 4 response that the signal timings Kimley-Horn used to analyze the intersections of U.S. 41/Stickney Point Road and the proposed signalized intersection of Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C “seem not to allow enough time for pedestrians to cross US 41.” That would create several issues, Kautz added. For example, if a pedestrian or bicyclist crosses at the U.S. 41 crosswalk, that will throw the U.S. 41/Stickney Point Road intersection timing “out of coordination with the rest of the signal system. This will cause issues on U.S. 41. … Queue lengths and Level of Service of the corridor will be negatively affected.”

“Level of Service” refers to the amount of congestion a driver perceives on a roadway, with A being the least problematic.

An aerial map shows the intersection of Avenue B and C with Stickney Point Road. Image from Google Maps

Kautz also noted that the proposed signal at Avenue B and C “seems to encourage very light queuing. Please note that this is assuming the proposed signal is synched with the US 41 and [Stickney Point Road] signal. If a pedestrian crosses US 41 and throws the signal out, the [Avenue B and C] queues will no longer be optimized and it is not known how far traffic would back up.”

Therefore, Kautz wrote, FDOT recommends that the proposed signal at Avenue B and C “be synched (not coordinated) with the signal at US 41 and [Stickney Point Road].”

When the News Leader asked county staff this week whether Benderson will have to reply to all clarifications FDOT requested before county Planning and Development Services staff can proceed with declaring the Siesta Promenade applications complete, Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester replied that Todd Dary, acting manager of Planning and Development, was out of the office until May 14, and Dary’s back-up on the project, Steve Kirk, also was out of the office. Therefore, Winchester was unable to provide an answer before the News Leader’s deadline.

Turn lanes target of other questions

Another segment of the Kimley-Horn report on which Kautz sought clarification is the firm’s recommendation for an additional westbound left-turn lane; an extra southbound left-turn lane; and an additional northbound left-turn lane at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road. “Is this an improvement (triple lefts northbound, southbound and westbound) that [Kimley-Horn] is suggesting the State/County perform to account for the Siesta Promenade traffic, or one that Benderson will be pursuing?” Kautz wrote.

He added that if the development is being analyzed on the basis of proposed improvements to the road system, “the mechanism and timeline for these improvements should be established.”

A December 2017 graphic shows traffic access points proposed for Siesta Promenade. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Furthermore, he pointed out that “a project is moving forward with bicycle lanes, requested by the County, that would prohibit triple lefts from being installed in the future. If the county wishes this project (bicycle lanes) to continue, there is no purpose to analyzing the triple lefts as they would not be able to be constructed without using eminent domain.”

After checking with county Planning and Development Services staff, County Media Relations Officer Winchester confirmed to the News Leader on May 8, “County staff has informed the Benderson traffic engineering consultant that Sarasota County would like to move forward with bicycle lane improvements.”

Kautz also noted that FDOT modeling showed that the traffic turning northbound onto U.S. 41 from Stickney Point Road “will back out into the through lanes during peak hour.”

He pointed out that a table Kimley-Horn had provided in its update “seemed to indicate that the northbound left turn lane needs 506 [feet] of queue per lane [emphasis in the document].” Kautz continued, “There is an average of 400 [feet] per lane [his emphasis again] in the existing turn lanes. This essentially eliminates a through lane on US 41, effectively going from 3 to 2 lanes.”

FDOT staff has questioned queue lengths in this Kimley-Horn and Associates table. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Additionally, Kautz referred in his May 4 report to the Kimley-Horn proposal for the center driveway for Siesta Promenade on Stickney Point Road to be a right turn in/right turn out only driveway. Kautz wrote that Benderson could not use the existing right lane on Stickney Point Road for that purpose. “An additional turn lane should be constructed for serving the proposed [right turn in and right turn out only traffic].

Kautz did inform Kimley-Horn that FDOT agreed with its proposal for the construction of an eastbound, left-turn lane at Avenue B and C and the closure of a median opening at Glencoe Avenue.

He also asked Kimley-Horn to “show the geometry” of the median or medians between Avenue B and C and U.S. 41. “This will be critical in the evaluation of Avenue A,” Kautz noted.

Furthermore, Kautz requested “a site plan that is current and updated, showing all improvements and internal site circulation. Mark important dimensions (spacing, lengths, widths, radii, etc.)”

When county Planning and Development Services staff members responded to materials Benderson submitted in March, county Planner Steve Kirk requested that Benderson provide “one complete new and final document for staff’s review,” reflecting changes that had been made at county request since the firm initially filed its Siesta Promenade application in August 2016.

“All edited or new text, documents or materials must be integrated into the Critical Area Plan Document and submitted for review [emphasis in the document],” Kirk wrote in an April 17 letter to Todd Mathes, director of development for Benderson.

An aerial map shows the intersection of Glencoe Avenue and Stickney Point Road. Image from Google Maps

Yet another point of clarification Kautz requested was in regard a statement Kimley-Horn made in its March update regarding an “FDOT intersection safety improvement project programmed at the [intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road]. At this time,” Kimley-Horn noted, “the project is scheduled to be available for contractors to bid in July 2019. The right-turn lanes are proposed to be modified to operate under signalized control as opposed to the existing channelized right-turn lanes …” That project “will provide a safety enhancement to both pedestrians and bicyclists,” the Kimley-Horn report added.

Kautz sought a definitive statement about whether Kimley-Horn factored in those improvements when it conducted its traffic analysis.

Kautz also questioned Kimley-Horn’s statement that, based upon diagrams it had reviewed for the period from 2010 to 2014, “six collisions were reported at the median opening of [Stickney Point Road and Avenue A] over a period of five years.”

Kautz wrote, “Cursory review regarding crashes involving [Avenue A’s] median opening shows at least 19 correctable crashes over the last 5 years … Please review your data.”