FDOT working on restriping and ‘Qwick Kurb’ devices to slow down vehicles and prevent accidents in vicinity of Siesta Drive/Higel Avenue curve

President of Bay Island Siesta Association tells Siesta Key Association members about latest plans FDOT has proposed as a result of Make Siesta Drive Safer campaign

Vehicles approach each other in the Siesta Drive/Higel Avenue curve. Rachel Hackney photo

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is working on plans for restriping and the installation of “Qwick Kurb” devices at the intersection of Siesta Drive and Higel Avenue on Siesta Key, the president of the Bay Island Siesta Association announced to Siesta Key Association (SKA) members last week.

The goal is to reduce the number of accidents in that vicinity, Pat Wulf, the newly elected Bay Island Siesta Association president, explained during a Jan. 4 presentation.

The flexible poles, about 3 feet tall, he said will be anchored into the asphalt, creating a barrier to keep cars from veering outside the travel lanes,

A speed feedback sign has been partially hidden behind a utility pole, just south of the Siesta Drive/Higel Avenue curve. Rachel Hackney photo

The poles — made by Qwick Kurb Inc., which is headquartered in Ruskin — will not cause damage to a vehicle that hits them, he pointed out. If the system works, he added, FDOT engineers said they would consider replacing the poles with a guardrail.

Additionally, FDOT plans to install new speed “feedback” signs facing motorists entering the curve, so if people are traveling more than 25 mph, the signs will flash “Slow Down,” Wulf said.

The current signs flash “Slow Down” only if a motorist is driving faster than 30 mph, Wulf noted.

As for the 25 mph warning signs on both approaches to the curve: Wulf explained that those are not considered speed limit signs. A person driving faster than 25 mph cannot be cited for an infraction, he said.

In August, FDOT installed new signage that lowered the speed limit from 40 mph to 30 mph in the immediate vicinity of the Higel/Siesta Drive curve. The sign facing southbound traffic will be moved nearer the Anglin Drive intersection, he noted, to make it more visible.

A Qwick Kurb pole is flexible enough to bounce back up after it has been struck, FDOT says. Image from the Qwick Kurb Inc. website

FDOT also will consider installing another speed feedback sign on the left side of Higel Avenue to increase the odds that northbound drivers will see a warning about their speed as they approach the sharp curve, Wulf continued during his Jan. 4 presentation. That will complement the sign on the right side of the road, he noted, which will be moved from its location behind a utility pole, so it will be more visible.

Wulf addressed the approximately 70 audience members on behalf of the Make Siesta Drive Safer (MSDS) committee of the Bay Island Siesta Association, which has been working over the past months on a number of initiatives to try to increase the safety of both drivers and pedestrians on the 1.9-mile segment of Siesta Drive from the Osprey Avenue intersection to the Higel Avenue intersection. Dee Reams, chair of Make Siesta Drive Safer, spoke to SKA members in November.

Yet another request MSDS has made, Wulf continued, is for FDOT to forbid left-hand turns out of La Paloma Avenue, which is the residential street just north of the Siesta/Higel curve.

If a person tries to turn left onto Siesta Drive from La Paloma, Wulf pointed out, “You are basically taking your life into your hands.”

One audience member familiar with La Paloma, however, cautioned Wulf to talk further with FDOT staff about the installation of the “Qwick Kurb” devices. The woman pointed out that if those devices are in place, that will reduce the ability of motorists to veer out of the way on Siesta Drive if they are behind a northbound vehicle getting ready to turn right into the La Paloma neighborhood. In spite of residents’ efforts to ensure they use signals and brakes well in advance of their turns, the woman said, some motorists fail to take sufficient notice and steer to the left to avoid collisions. If the flexible posts are in place, a southbound vehicle on Siesta Drive would have nowhere to go to avoid hitting a northbound motorist attempting not to hit someone making that turn into La Paloma, she explained.

“I appreciate your bringing that up,” Wulf replied. “No one had thought of that,” he added, but MSDS representatives will address that with FDOT.

Members of the committee had suggested a stoplight at the intersection of Siesta Drive and Higel Avenue, Wulf noted, but FDOT officials opposed that. Their goal is to keep traffic flowing on the road, Wulf said, as it is a hurricane evacuation route.

Speed limits and crosswalks

Northbound vehicles on Siesta Drive approach the intersections for La Paloma Avenue and then White Lane (on the left, hidden behind the foliage) as they head toward the ‘hump bridge.’ Rachel Hackney photo

Although Make Siesta Drive Safer would like to see the speed limit lowered to 30 mph from Osprey Avenue to the intersection of Midnight Pass Road and Higel Avenue, Wulf explained, FDOT says that because the route is a state road (758), state guidelines call for the 40 mph signs to remain there — unless accident statistics and/or a speed study conducted in early October give the department sufficient reasons to lower the speed.

If the road were a county road, he said, FDOT engineers indicated they easily would be able to lower the speed limit to 30 mph because of its residential nature.

Although MSDS representatives have talked with interim Sarasota County Administrator Jonathan Lewis about the potential swap of River Road, a county road, for several Siesta routes, that transaction is unlikely to occur soon, Wulf added.

A graphic shows plans for restriping at the Siesta Drive/Higel Avenue intersection. Image courtesy Bay Island Siesta Association

A few months ago, then-County Administrator Tom Harmer told the Sarasota County commissioners that negotiations had begun between county administrative staff and FDOT regarding such a swap. The county has been unsuccessful in winning state funding to make the improvements the commissioners argue are needed for River Road because of significant new residential development in that area of South County and the construction of a new Spring Training complex for the Atlanta Braves in the West Villages. The latter is scheduled to open in 2019.

When The Sarasota News Leader asked county staff this week for an update on that process, Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester wrote in a Jan. 8 email that as of Jan. 5, “there was nothing new to report regarding the potential swap. Negotiations remain ongoing with FDOT.”

Finally, Wulf noted that MSDS has been talking with FDOT engineers about adding crosswalks at the intersections of North Shell Road and Hamilton Avenue, along with how best to create a safe crossing situation for pedestrians to the north and west of the Siesta/Higel curve.

When SKA Environmental Committee member Robert Luckner pointed out that the pedestrian crosswalks FDOT installed in 2012 on Midnight Pass Road between Beach Road and Stickney Point Road were an inexpensive but successful addition, Wulf replied, “We’re jealous as we can be about those crosswalks.” FDOT staff has said that the statistics it has about pedestrian crossings on Siesta Drive and Higel Avenue have been insufficient to warrant the installation of crosswalks, Wulf added. However, MSDS members are hopeful that the October traffic study will provide updated numbers to support such an initiative.

A months-long process

A map shows accident locations plotted by the Make Siesta Drive Safer committee members, reflecting incidents from 2012 to 2015. Image courtesy Bay Island Siesta Association

The Make Siesta Drive Safer initiative began in mid-May 2017, Wulf told the SKA audience, as Bay Island Siesta Association members started talking about their concerns regarding unsafe conditions on Siesta Drive. Data the group obtained showed that 180 crashes involving more than 300 vehicles were recorded on the 1.9-mile stretch from Osprey Avenue to Higel Avenue between 2012 and 2015, he pointed out. In connection with those, he continued, 10 fatalities and 70 injuries were reported.

However, Wulf noted, MSDS members are convinced the crash total should be much higher. Many times, Wulf said, drivers who fail to successfully negotiate the Higel/Siesta curve tear down bushes, signs and even a utility box in that area. Yet, if their vehicles have not sustained damage severe enough to prevent them from being drivable, those motorists will leave the scene without contacting law enforcement officers, he said.

On Aug. 14, Wulf continued, FDOT engineers spent about two hours with MSDS representatives, walking the corridor. Although they had researched the area online, Wulf said, their reaction to actually seeing the Siesta/Higel curve could be summed up by “‘Wow! This is messed up!’”

As he concluded his remarks, Wulf asked the SKA directors for their support of the Make Siesta Drive Safer initiatives.

When Vice President Catherine Luckner asked for people to raise their hands if they approved of the group’s efforts, many people did so. “I’d say you’ve got a good show,” she told Wulf.

When Wulf then asked for a letter of support from the SKA board, Luckner suggested the SKA would send a survey to its members to ascertain a fuller response to the MSDS plans. “It does carry weight,” she added of such a survey.

SKA Secretary Joyce Kouba asked Wulf to provide the board with the specific issues he would like to see the survey address.