Residential Neighborhood Traffic Management Program revived by County Commission

Property owners to cover expense of staff-recommended measures to slow drivers

This is a driver feedback sign. Image courtesy Sarasota County

With a unanimous vote this week, the Sarasota County commissioners revived the county’s Residential Neighborhood Traffic Management Program, in response to the growing number of complaints about the threat of speeders to community residents.

However, the new version of the program — the original one ended in 2007 — calls for neighborhoods to pay for materials for traffic-calming measures they support, instead of the county’s sharing the expense with them, as in the past. Nonetheless, county Public Works Department Director Spencer Anderson told the commissioners on March 5, county staff will install and maintain the devices.

During the discussion, Commissioner Neil Rainford alluded to the fact that the program ended because of financial constraints brought about by the Great Recession. A county staff memo in the March 5 agenda packet put it this way: “The Board of County Commissioners … suspended many non-essential programs and services in 2007 due to the nationwide financial conditions.”

The original initiative was launched in 2001, Anderson told the commissioners during his March 5 presentation at the R.L. Anderson Administration Center in Venice.

In most cases, he explained, the county covered at least part of the expense of a traffic-calming device’s installation in a neighborhood, with the affected homeowners association or residents picking up the rest of the cost.

“We had spent about a million dollars on this program,” he pointed out, before it ended.

Recently, Anderson continued, residents’ requests for traffic-calming measures have increased. “We have a significant amount of traffic in the county,” he added, which — he indicated — leads to drivers making the decision to cut through neighborhoods to avoid heavily traveled roads.

The lone speaker during the March 5 public hearing — Karen Godwin, who noted that she lives on the quarter-mile-long Upper Tangelo Drive in Sarasota — explained that that street has become a cut-through option for drivers on Webber Street trying to reach Tuttle Avenue without having to wait through the traffic light at the intersection of Tuttle and Webber.

Upper Tangelo Drive runs east-west, parallel to Webber Street in Sarasota. Image from Google Maps

The street is narrow, she continued, and it has only 18 homes. No lighting or sidewalks are present, Godwin pointed out.

Although most of the residents are 50 years old or older, she said, a couple of families with children have moved in, and she routinely keeps her great-grandchildren at her home.
“We get a lot of traffic — 50, 60, 70 mph coming down that street,” she told the board members. She has had to call the Sarasota County School District to complain about speeding school buses, Godwin added, and FedEx trucks routinely exceed the speed limit.

Several older ladies in the neighborhood walk their dogs, she continued. Given that lawn service trucks also park on the street, Godwin explained, “It’s not safe.”

A study undertaken about five or six years ago concluded that excessive speed was a problem on the street at that time, she added.

Upper Tangelo residents would like very much to work with Public Works Director Anderson on traffic-calming measures for the street, Godwin said.

Details of the new program

Anderson explained that the proposed facets of the revived program call for 67% of the affected property owners to approve a traffic-calming measure before county staff will assist with a project.

Further, unlike the previous program, no districts will be created to impose assessments on the property owners to help pay for the initiatives, he said. That will simplify the process, he indicated.

Moreover, Anderson pointed out, staff has learned through the years which devices that have the best success rates for slowing drivers. When the previous program was in effect, he noted, it allowed “everything and the kitchen sink” to be installed.

The four best options that the Public Works staff has found for neighborhoods, he continued, are driver feedback signs; raised crosswalks; speed cushions; and modular mini roundabouts.

These are the new speed cushions on Ocean Boulevard, just north of Siesta Village. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Anderson showed the commissioners a photo depicting the speed cushions installed last year on Ocean Boulevard, just south of the north entrance to Siesta Key Village, in response to years-long complaints about speeding of vehicles as they head into the Village from the northern part of the barrier island.

“They’ve done a really great job,” he added of the speed cushions. Their width is “just enough to capture about 95% of the wheel bases for vehicles,” Anderson said, while allowing emergency vehicles to drive over them with no difficulty.

He also presented slides showing the mini roundabout installed last year at the intersection of Higel Avenue and Ocean Boulevard on the northern part of Siesta Key. “It’s been very successful,” Anderson noted, with very few complaints expressed to staff.

That intersection, he explained, posed challenges to drivers on Ocean Boulevard who wished to make the left turn onto Higel, to head back toward the mainland. Drivers on Higel had the right of way.

Anderson described the mini roundabout as “a pre-formed device [that looks similar to] a bunch of Legos, almost.”

He did acknowledge that such a roundabout “is probably the most expensive option” among staff’s proposed traffic-calming measures. It costs about $75,000, he added, with parts and labor.

This graphic provides details about the mini roundabout in the area of Higel Avenue and Ocean Boulevard on Siesta Key. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Then Anderson explained that the procedure staff has established for the revived Residential Neighborhood Traffic Management Program will require an application to be submitted from a homeowners association or at least 10 residents in a project area. County staff will conduct a traffic study in that area, including collecting data on the speed and volume of vehicles. After that study has been completed, he continued, staff will advertise a public workshop for all of the affected property owners and residents. At that time, Anderson added, staff will discuss the potential options. Then a county survey will determine whether sufficient support exists to meet the 67% threshold for the project to proceed.

Staff would be responsible for maintaining all of the devices installed through the program. If something fails, Anderson said, it would be removed.

However, he emphasized, “These are pretty long-life devices,” though “they do require some maintenance.”

In response to a question from Commissioner Mark Smith, Anderson said that any interested residents or a representative of a homeowners association would launch the process by contacting the Public Works Department. (The number for any county assistance is 311.)

Commissioner Neil Rainford pointed out that residents on Seminole Drive in South Venice, which is part of his District 3 territory, had talked with him about relaunching the program.

A study of that street found that, of the 32,000 drivers documented, 6,300 were speeding, Rainford noted, and some of them drove as fast as 63 mph.

“We need to make sure that our citizens aren’t getting hit [in neighborhoods],” Rainford said, indicating that children are of special concern, though pets, too, are vulnerable to speeding traffic.

Rainford ended up making the motion to approve the revival of the program, and Commissioner Smith seconded it.

“Public safety’s first and foremost for all of us sitting up here,” Rainford stressed.

This is an example of a raised crosswalk in the Waterside development in the northeastern part of the county. Image courtesy Sarasota County

As a long-time Siesta resident, Smith told his colleagues, “I’ve had the opportunity to” he paused, “enjoy the speed cushions and the mini roundabout on Siesta Key. They do work.”

He added that he had been curious to see how visitors would handle the roundabout, with high tourist season underway. So far, he continued, 90% seem to “actually know what they’re doing.”

“I’m absolutely in favor of [the revived program],” he told his colleagues.

Smith also expressed support for requiring residents to pay for the materials necessary for the devices. “I think that shows how serious they are about it.”

Rainford’s motion then passed unanimously.