Whispering Sands condominium owners petitioning for signage in wake of construction of 18 parking spaces on west side of Ocean Boulevard
Even before the Sarasota County Commission last year formally approved the funding for 22 new public parking spaces on the northern end of Siesta Village, residents of the Whispering Sands condominium complex began voicing frustrations.
Eighteen of those new spaces — which would be angled — were planned for the west side of Ocean Boulevard, in front of Whispering Sands.
One Whispering Sands resident, Bernette Hoyt, even addressed the commissioners to complain about what she called a high prospect for traffic crashes. As Hoyt and others — including Siesta Key Association (SKA) President Catherine Luckner — have noted — drivers speed southbound into Siesta Village, and large delivery trucks often park in the middle turn lane while drivers transport goods into area businesses.
Yet, Chair Alan Maio stood firm, noting that he had worked with Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce leaders for several years on the potential for new public parking spaces in Siesta Village.
County staff recently completed the 18 parking spaces in front of Whispering Sands. Yet, residents of the complex did not wait for that milestone to submit an application to the county’s Traffic Advisory Council (TAC), requesting that four-way stop signs be added on Ocean Boulevard at the intersection of Whispering Sands Drive — on the west — and Avenida Milano on the east.
Dated Jan. 10, the petition said the 18 spaces will impede drivers’ and pedestrians’ ability to see vehicles approaching the area from the north. Further, the petition contended, “This will impede right and left turns from Whispering Sands Drive onto Ocean Boulevard. A 4-way stop sign will slow speeding traffic and allow easier turns off Avenida Milano, Whispering Sands Drive, Hourglass Way, Treasure Boat Lane, and Sandy Hook.”
Altogether, 87 signatures were on the petition.
During the resulting TAC hearing — conducted on March 14 — the advisory board members unanimously denied the request after Kaitlyn Panfil, an engineer in training with the Traffic Engineering Division, through the county’s Public Works Professional Engineering Development Program, explained that the factors associated with the location of the proposed stop signs do not meet county criteria for erecting them.
During the County Commission’s March 29 meeting, Chair Maio indicated that that board would be taking up the issue. Following the TAC decision, The Sarasota News Leader had asked about the status of the petition. County Traffic Engineering staff replied that the commissioners could approve it, in spite of the TAC recommendation.
“After the TAC [hearing on a petition], we reach out to the petitioner to ask if they still want to pursue their item,” staff wrote in an email. If the answer is “Yes,” staff added, then a County Commission hearing is scheduled.
In this case, the staff noted, the Whispering Sands issue likely would be placed on a County Commission agenda for “May or June this year.”
County Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant confirmed for the News Leader on April 7 that the discussion item will be on the commission’s May 10 agenda.
Details of the request
During the March 14 TAC hearing, Panfil of Traffic Engineering did acknowledge to the board members that drivers speed into Siesta Village. Although the speed limit is 20 mph, she said, the average speed for vehicles headed southbound on Ocean Boulevard at the Whispering Sands Drive/Avenida Milano intersection is 31 mph. At the 85th percentile mark, the speed is 36.2 mph, she noted, characterizing that as “a little higher than we’d like to see.”
Typically, Panfil added, staff will observe speeds that are 5 mph to 7 mph over the posted limit.
However, she said, no crashes had been recorded in the relevant area over the past three years.
Panfil also acknowledged the “substandard sight distance” for drivers trying to navigate into and out of the 18 new parking spaces. “The standard should be 191 feet,” she said. “It’s about 168 feet.”
When TAC member Sgt. Sam Lutz of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office asked for clarification of that, Panfil confirmed the substandard sight distance.
Additionally, Panfil pointed out to the TAC members that stop signs already exist at both the Ocean Boulevard/Whispering Sands Drive intersection and the Ocean Boulevard/Avenida Milano intersection.
The average annual daily volume (AADT) of southbound traffic on that section of Ocean Boulevard is 3,275, according to a chart she showed the TAC members.
For northbound traffic, the AADT is 3,550, the chart noted; those drivers average 20 mph, but the 85th percentile speed is 24.8 mph.
Further, Panfil explained that Ocean Boulevard is classified as a minor collector with a 12-foot lane width. (The Florida Department of Transportation says a minor collector provides “traffic access and traffic circulation in lower density residential and commercial/industrial areas.”)
On either side of the road, 8-foot sidewalks are in place, Panfil noted, but no bicycle lanes have been created. (SKA President Luckner has pointed out to The Sarasota News Leader that many people ride their bicycles on the sidewalk in that area of Siesta Village. This reporter has seen plenty of bicyclists in that location, as well, over the years.)
Whispering Sands Drive is classified as a private road, Panfil continued, while Avenida Milano is considered a local road. The width of each lane on Whispering Sands Drive is 12 feet; for Avenida Milano, 14 feet.
The speed limit on Whispering Sands Drive is 15 mph; on Avenida Milano, 20 mph, she said.
No bicycle lanes exist on those roads, either, the relevant chart noted.
Then Panfil reviewed the criteria for multi-way stop signs. To be eligible for such signage, she pointed out, the points must add up to seven or more. In this case, she said, the total was five. The biggest factor was the traffic volume, which netted four of those five points, she said.
Therefore, Panfil told the TAC members, county staff did not recommend the multi-way stop signs.
Only one person had signed up to speak during the hearing. Christian Langedyk, who lives on Avenida Milano, said he is a general contractor, adding that he lives just down the street from where the multi-way stop signs would be erected.
“We want people to go through … the Village,” he told the TAC members, noting that the new stop signs might encourage drivers to take alternate routes that would be disruptive to surrounding residential areas.
Moreover, Langedyk continued, if vehicles had to stop for such signs on Ocean Boulevard, traffic would back up on Ocean and on the side streets.
“I vehemently oppose it,” he said of the Whispering Sands petition.
After he concluded his remarks, TAC Chair Becky Ayech closed the hearing and asked for a motion.
Sgt. Lutz of the Sheriff’s Office made the motion to deny the request for the new multi-way stop signs, and Capt. John Donovan of the Florida Highway Patrol seconded it. Ayech and TAC member Joseph Daku joined them in passing the motion.
Ayech, who has been chair of the board in the past, had pointed out at the start of the meeting that the TAC has lost some members. However, county staff assured her she had a quorum to conduct business that day.