Filling in sidewalk gaps in proximity to schools and Legacy Trail remains priority for County Commission

County’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Trails Program coordinator provides update on progress

Sarasota County staff is continuing to collaborate with representatives of the Sarasota County School District on plans for constructing sections of sidewalks to fill gaps existing in the county network, Patrick Lui, coordinator of the county’s bicycle and pedestrian trails program, has reported to the County Commission.

County staff also is working on a similar initiative to provide better connections from neighborhoods to The Legacy Trail, he said during a Dec. 14 presentation to the commissioners.

The topic was among the board members’ strategic plans for the calendar year of 2022, Lui noted.

A “list of approximately 44 miles of sidewalk projects has been identified between the Sarasota County sidewalk priority program … and the sidewalk analysis of Safe Routes to School and The Legacy Trail connections,” a memo included in the commissioners’ packet for that Dec. 14 meeting explained.

The county’s list covered about 22 miles, the memo noted, while the School District list included approximately 21 miles of gaps.

“We have in the county about 1,700 miles of sidewalks that we manage,” Lui pointed out during his presentation. “Our network, from a transportation standpoint, is pretty robust …”

Lui then explained that, in preparing the county’s 2021 master plan focused on pedestrian and bicycle connections, staff members held four public meetings, and they invited people to fill out an online survey. About 1,300 responses were received to the latter, he added.

One question, Lui told the commissioners, asked individuals to rate a list of reasons for not walking more frequently.

Among the answers were as follows, Lui continued:

  • “Sidewalks, paths, or crossings are missing or in poor condition,” which was the major reason cited by 55.17% of the respondents.
  • “Traffic is too fast and/or heavy,” which was cited by 47.05% of the survey takers as a major reason.
  • “Weather is not conducive to walking,” which 15.84% of respondents cited.

Lui also showed the board members slides depicting missing sidewalk sections that the commissioners already had addressed, with projects approved, a well as segments within half-a-mile of schools, which should be a priority, he noted.

In regard to The Legacy Trail: Lui said, “We did hear a lot about that,” in working on the 2021 master plan for pedestrians and bicyclists.

“Our sidewalk network to the Legacy Trail is pretty well established,” he continued. “There aren’t many gaps …”

Most of those, he added, involve bike lanes along state roads or on constrained roads, such as Webber Street in Sarasota.

Over the past year, Lui continued, staff has been collaborating with state representatives “to maybe add multi-use paths” in facilitating connections to The Legacy Trail.

Further, he said, Public Works has been focused on a federal grant for the design of a Legacy Trail overpass at Tuttle Avenue in Sarasota. At the same time, Lui added, staff has been working with representatives of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) on plans for Legacy Trail overpasses of Bahia Vista Street and Beneva Road in Sarasota. “Those [initiatives] have been moving along quite well.”

He also showed the commissioners a slide listing sidewalk projects included in the county’s five-year Capital Improvement Program for the fiscal years 2022 through 2024. Those involve about 6 miles of sidewalks, Lui pointed out.

In 2022, the list noted plans for the design of sidewalks within the DeSoto Acres community and along Tuttle Avenue.

For this fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, the following projects were named:

  • Design and construction of the Palmer Road sidewalk and pedestrian bridge.
  • Design of the Phillippi Creek area sidewalk system.
  • Completion of an interlocal agreement with the City of Sarasota for the design and construction of a sidewalk on Bay Road.
  • Construction of sidewalks along Desoto Road and Tuttle Avenue.

Then, for the 2024 fiscal year, the slide said, plans call for the construction of a sidewalk in the area of Phillippi Shores Elementary School in Sarasota and a sidewalk in the vicinity of the Vamo Road community and Gulf Gate Elementary School in Sarasota. The school stands at 6500 S. Lockwood Ridge Road in Sarasota.

Additionally, Lui said, the county’s extension of its penny sales tax — or, Surtax — program, from Jan. 1, 2025 through Dec. 31, 2039, includes about $18 million for safe routes to schools and to The Legacy Trail.

During the Nov. 8 General Election, voters approved the Surtax IV Program. Automatically, 25% of the revenue the program produces goes to the Sarasota County School District. The rest is divvied up among the county and the municipalities, based on population. All of the funding has to be used for public projects; none of it can be allocated for general operating expenses, the county website explains.

Lui added that staff will have flexibility in adjusting its plans for the Surtax IV money, as needed.

Another slide provided this tentative list for sidewalks that the Surtax IV Program could fund:

  • Lorraine Road Extension (Fruitville Road to Palmer Road).
  • Lorraine Road Extension (Clark Road to Knights Trail Road).
  • Honore Avenue Road Widening Project (Fruitville Road to 17th Street).
  • Proctor Road Widening Project (McIntosh Road to Honore Avenue).
  • Warm Mineral Springs Area Sidewalk Project.
  • North Englewood Sidewalk Project.
  • Englewood Elementary Sidewalk Project Phase 2.

None of the commissioners had questions for Lui at the conclusion of his presentation.

Chair Ron Cutsinger did point out that he was the board member who suggested the sidewalk gaps issue be among the priorities for 2022.

More than five years ago, during a March 2017 budget workshop, then-Commission Chair Paul Caragiulo emphasized the need for sidewalk construction. He indicated that he had been receiving multiple emails from residents who were complaining about the lack of sidewalks in the county. “I’ll make the assumption that my colleagues get a similar level of interest, which would be a high level of interest, with regard to sidewalks anywhere,” Caragiulo told then-County Engineer Isaac Brownman.

Brownman pointed out that day that, because Surtax III Program revenue dropped considerably during the Great Recession, the county’s sidewalk construction work had “been significantly constrained.”