After an airing of complaints at an initial presentation, state transportation officials revised plans for safety enhancement changes at Siesta Key’s Stickney Point Road/Midnight Pass Road intersection
After hearing a number of complaints last week when it first aired a proposal for changes at the Stickney Point Road/Midnight Pass Road intersection, Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) personnel unveiled a revised option during the Sept. 3 meeting of the Siesta Key Association (SKA).
L.K. Nandam, FDOT district operations engineer, addressed about 20 SKA members two days after presenting the department’s original plan to members of the Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA). In an effort to make the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Midnight Pass Road on south Siesta Key friendlier to pedestrians and cyclists, Nandam told the SKVA members on Sept. 1 that FDOT proposed removing the acceleration lane for vehicles turning right from Stickney Point Road onto Midnight Pass Road and realigning the crosswalk on Stickney Point Road to make pedestrians more visible to drivers. Further, the bike lane — which stops on Stickney Point Road — would be extended onto Midnight Pass Road through that right-hand turn. People on bicycles who wanted to head south on Midnight Pass Road would have to move into the left vehicle lane and turn with the traffic, Nandam said.
While SKVA members agreed the intersection is not friendly to cyclists, they stressed that the acceleration lane is a benefit to motorists heading north, Nandam told the SKA meeting attendees.
The revised proposal would maintain the acceleration lane and incorporate a raised concrete separator to the left of the right-hand turn lane where striping is in place. Because the striping is “not a physical barrier,” Nandam explained, it does not inhibit motorists from attempting illegal moves around pedestrians or cyclists.
Nandam also noted that “the bigger the radius [of an intersection], the faster the people can turn,” which leads to more dangerous situations for pedestrians and cyclists.
Research shows that a collision of a pedestrian or cyclist with a vehicle going about 40 mph in a turn results in a fatality about 90 percent of the time. If the motorist’s speed is reduced to 30 mph, he added, the fatality potential falls to 60 percent. “The slower the speed, it’s better for pedestrian safety.”
SKA President Michael Shay suggested that if the concrete was constructed at a height of 4 or 5 inches, people might be more inclined to slow down.
“We’ll look at that,” Nandam told him.
Further, the revised plan calls for the crosswalk on Stickney Point Road to be connected to the crosswalk on South Midnight Pass Road. This option will maintain the vehicle-handling capacity of the intersection, Nandam said, but it also will provide more safety for people on foot or on bicycles.
The design work for the original proposal was approximately at the 60-percent mark, he explained. If the contractor can incorporate the changes so the modifications can be implemented prior to Thanksgiving, he added, FDOT will move forward. However, if the contractor cannot meet that deadline, Nandam said, FDOT will put off the modifications until after the peak tourist season ends.
In the past four years, Nandam said, only two crashes involving motorists and people biking or on foot have been reported at the Stickney Point Road/Midnight Pass Road intersection; both were in the area of the right merge lane on Midnight Pass. One involved a pedestrian, he added; the other, a cyclist.
When SKA board member Joe Volpe pointed out that the incidents resulted from jaywalking, Nandam replied that the motorists in both cases were at fault as well.
The original proposal for changes at Stickney Point and Midnight Pass roads, he said, resulted from public comments FDOT heard when it worked with residents and Siesta Key organizations in late 2011 and 2012 to improve pedestrian safety by constructing six new pedestrian crosswalks on the stretch of Midnight Pass Road between Stickney Point Road and Beach Road.
A 2014 document called Dangerous by Design, a collaboration of Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition, ranked four metropolitan areas in Florida as the most dangerous to pedestrians in the nation, he noted. No. 1 was Orlando-Kissimmee, followed by Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Jacksonville and Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach. As a result, he continued, FDOT has been working over the past couple of years to modify its intersection designs to make them friendlier to pedestrians and cyclists while balancing motorists’ needs.
Another major facet of this undertaking, Nandam told the SKA audience, is partnering with law enforcement agencies to “change the behavior aspects of both the motorists and pedestrians.” FDOT is funding efforts of such agencies to enhance safety in locations with high-crash statistics, he noted.
Another key component of the new approach is education, he stressed. A couple of years ago, he added, FDOT launched a campaign titled Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow, to help with that component.
Other audience concerns
During the Sept. 3 discussion, SKA member Joe Barresi pointed out that motorists try to switch from the left, southbound lane to the right, northbound lane as they approach the intersection of Stickney Point Road with Midnight Pass Road. “You have a lot of road rage,” he added. People often claim they had to make the sudden lane change because they did not realize early enough that they needed to be in the right lane, he continued. “Trust me, they know where they’re going. … So you let them in so you don’t rear-end them.”
“There are signs there that say, ‘Left lane, left turn only; right lane, right turn only,” Shay pointed out. However, he conceded that, especially when traffic starts to back up on the bridge, “people do use the left lane and then try to cut in” so they can make the right turn onto Midnight Pass Road.
“It goes into driver behavior,” Nandam said. Even though the solid yellow line between the lanes should prevent people from crossing, he pointed out, it does not.
SKA member Marlene Merkle noted that another frustration for motorists in that vicinity is the fact that “pedestrians … just don’t go to those crosswalks” that FDOT installed on Midnight Pass Road in 2012.
“Engineering is just not going to be enough,” Nandam said, adding that FDOT also is working with the University of South Florida on a campaign titled Walk Wise, which is designed to educate pedestrians about how to enhance their safety. On Siesta, he continued, “[Tourists] are in a hurry to get to the beach,” so they cross wherever they can. “There’s got to be a different approach for that.”
He suggested FDOT work with Visit Sarasota County to develop brochures that the county department and condominium complexes on the island can distribute to visitors to encourage them to abide by the traffic laws.
Sarasota County Commissioner Al Maio told the SKA audience members, “A lot of folks [at the SKVA meeting] grilled these two fellows,” referring to Nandam and Nandam’s colleague, Michael Kautz, an FDOT highway safety manager. For those who think FDOT representatives do not listen to the public, Maio added, “I guess they do.”
“This is far superior to what you showed us the other day,” Volpe said.