Roundabout at U.S. 41 and Boulevard of the Arts a new City Commission proposal for state funding, if analysis proves it could work

Roundabout at Cocoanut Avenue and Second Street, along with two raised walkways on St. Armands, also included as new projects for regional and state consideration

An aerial map shows the intersection of U.S. 41 and Boulevard of the Arts, with the Quay Sarasota project underway to the west. Image from Google Maps

Two more roundabouts in downtown Sarasota are among the latest measures City of Sarasota staff is considering to improve traffic flow and pedestrian safety, the city commissioners learned this week.

The news came during a presentation about a list of city priorities for consideration by the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). After about 14 minutes of discussion, the commission voted 4-1 to approve the addition of the projects, plus a proposal for two raised crosswalks on St. Armands Circle. Commissioner Willie Shaw cast the “No” vote.

Chief Transportation Planner Colleen McGue told the board members during their regular meeting on Dec. 3 that city staff recently “had a productive meeting with [representatives of] The Bay and with GreenPointe.”

As a result, she continued, staff wanted to add to its recommendations for the MPO priorities a potential roundabout at U.S. 41 and Boulevard of the Arts.

The Bay is the vision for new park and cultural and arts amenities on the 53 city-owned acres on the downtown waterfront. GreenPointe is the developer of The Quay Sarasota project, which is just north of the Ritz-Carlton property. The City Commission approved that mixed-use project in December 2016.

“We’re looking at the geometry to see if [a roundabout] would fit right now [at the U.S. 41/Boulevard of the Arts intersection],” McGue added. “There is some interest in donation of [[private] right of way,” which could solve the problem of lack of public land for that purpose in one section of the potential roundabout, she indicated.

Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie noted that concerns have been aired in the past about transportation changes that could hamper the large commercial trucks that need to access the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall on the bayfront, as well as the Hyatt Regency Sarasota.

If the board were interested in adding the roundabout to the MPO list, McGue replied, then the commercial truck traffic issue would be part of the project evaluation.

A graphic shows details about the Phase I concept for The Bay. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

“That’s going to be a very impacting piece there, right at The Bay,” Commissioner Willie Shaw added of the proposed roundabout.

If the commissioners agreed to allow staff to move forward with the concept, City Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw said, then representatives of The Bay would give the proposal more consideration and talk with the owners of the neighboring properties.

DavisShaw also emphasized that operational evaluations and determinations about the right of way issues would be necessary before the project could proceed.

The other proposed roundabout — comprising a single lane — would be at the intersection of Cocoanut Avenue and Second Street, DavisShaw noted. Similar roundabouts the city has constructed in the downtown area, she continued, have “really done a good job” of slowing down vehicles and making pedestrians safer.

The Cocoanut/Second Street intersection, she added, is “another one of those offset, awkward intersections,” so staff wants to make it function better for motorists and people on foot.

An aerial map shows the intersection of Cocoanut Avenue and Second Street. Image from Google Maps

Finally, the other new project staff is proposing for the MPO’s consideration, DavisShaw said, is the installation of raised crosswalks at two intersections on St. Armands Circle: the first one traffic approaches as it enters the Circle from downtown Sarasota and the last one traffic encounters as it proceeds toward Longboat Key.

Drivers leaving St. Armands, she noted, “tend to still be going rather quickly.”

Staff of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) had asked that the City Commission include that project in its MPO priorities as a safety measure, DavisShaw said.

Although the MPO board evaluates all the priorities local governments submit to it, McGue explained, projects generally win approval and are added to the organization’s list from the counties for FDOT funding consideration.

Even so, McGue added, it typically takes five years for a new project to win any state financial support.

Concerns about the North Trail roundabouts

These are the continuing priorities, from previous years, the commission approved for MPO consideration. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

During the Dec. 3 discussion, Freeland Eddie and Shaw both expressed concerns about the series of roundabouts on North U.S. 41.

With “such a heavy concentration of [the structures] in a small … space,” Freeland Eddie said, the city has a greater limitation on the amount of beautification it can undertake on the North Trail, especially to make the route more appealing to visitors who arrive at and depart from the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.

“Part of [the reason for the concentration],” DavisShaw told her, “is the need from a traffic perspective.” The greater the volume of vehicles, DavisShaw continued, the greater the need for roundabouts to facilitate the flow.

DavisShaw also noted that a city plan for a roundabout at U.S. 41 and 47th Street, which had not won funding from the state, remained on the proposed MPO list before the board that day for approval. Staff wanted to re-submit that to the MPO, she said. “We will try again [to win state support for it].”

“Congestion … starts from Myrtle [Street]” and continues up to University Parkway in the afternoon rush hour, Shaw pointed out. “It’s insane in the evening, trying to get through there, and I’m just looking at complicating it.” Would another roundabout at 47th Street, so close to the one planned at U.S. 41 and Myrtle, be advisable, he asked.

The roundabouts allow through-flow of traffic while lowering drivers’ speed, DavisShaw told him.

Shaw then questioned whether traffic would end up backed up to University Parkway, because of FDOT will not approve a city request for a roundabout to be constructed at that intersection with U.S. 41. Traffic signals will remain there.

Shaw told DavisShaw that residents of the neighborhoods in the 47th Street area already are complaining about traffic on their streets, as motorists try to avoid U.S. 41 between 47th and University.

“The DOT is trying to make that intersection more efficient,” DavisShaw said of the University Parkway situation.

Noting the fact that she is not a city representative on the MPO board, Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch asked for background on the FDOT decision regarding University Parkway.

An aerial map shows U.S. 41 between 47th Street and Myrtle Street. Image from Google Maps

McGue explained that FDOT staff is considering other improvements at the intersection of University Parkway and U.S. 41 to facilitate traffic flow. “That study is not finalized yet.”

When Ahearn-Koch asked why FDOT ruled out the roundabout at U.S. 41 and University, DavisShaw told her that FDOT staff had reported that the volume of traffic and the number of left-turn movements indicated a roundabout would not work there.

Ahearn-Koch also inquired about the MPO priority proposed by staff regarding the widening of sidewalks on Fruitville Road between U.S. 301 and U.S. 41 in downtown Sarasota.

The public has voiced concern for some time, DavisShaw replied, that the 4-foot width of the sidewalks is “just really unpleasant. … You walk single-file through there …”

What the city will end up doing along that stretch remains undecided, she added. More discussion is planned for March 2019, DavisShaw noted.

Like members of the community for the past several years, Shaw referred to the potential elimination of one lane of traffic on Fruitville as a “road diet.” “I’ve been against it,” he said. “I’m still against it. I just wanted that noted for the record …”

After the discussion, Mayor Liz Alpert asked for a motion. Freeland Eddie made it, calling for the addition of the three new projects — the two roundabouts and the St. Armands Circle improvements — to the city’s MPO priority list. Ahearn-Koch seconded the motion, and it passed 4-1, with Shaw voting against it.