Siesta Isles Association wins County Commission approval for all but two requests for traffic calming measures sought to improve safety

Speed limit to be lowered on Glebe Lane and in Siesta Isles, and two sets of multi-way stop signs to be installed

A graphic shows the streets in Siesta Isles. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Different board, quite a different outcome.

On Sept. 9, Tony Romanus appeared before the Sarasota County Traffic Advisory Council (TAC) to request two speed limit reductions, plus multi-way stops at four locations in the 297-home Siesta Isles community.

Representing the Siesta Isles Association Board of Directors, he figuratively was shot down on each item. The lone petition on which the TAC offered some assistance involved Glebe Lane. Instead of lowering the speed limit from 30 mph to 20 mph, as requested, however, the TAC agreed to 25 mph, based on the staff recommendation.

During the Dec. 11 County Commission meeting — before Romanus ever even stepped to the podium — Commissioner Alan Maio began peppering Amjid Hussain, an engineer on staff of the county’s Traffic Engineering & Operations Division, with questions about staff’s objections to the Siesta Isles petitions.

“You and I are going to talk a lot this afternoon,” Maio told Hussain, “because I’ve had to listen to the thoughts of those residents on Siesta for five years.”

Later, Commissioner Michael Moran asked County Attorney Frederick “Rick” Elbrecht for confirmation about the latitude the commissioners have with traffic petitions.

“The board has discretion to grant or deny these,” Elbrecht replied.

A graphic shows the location of Siesta Isles on Siesta Key. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Approximately an hour and 2 minutes later, the County Commission unanimously had approved the speed limit change the Siesta Isles Association had requested on Glebe Lane; it had reduced the speed limit throughout Siesta Isles from 25 mph to 20 mph; and it had approved multi-way stop signs at two of the four intersections: Contento Drive at Shadow Law Drive; and Beach Way Drive at Cape Leyte Drive.

Maio made the motion for each one, and Commissioner Christian Ziegler seconded them.

County Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester told The Sarasota News Leader in a Dec. 18 email that the speed limit signs would be installed Dec. 19, while the new stop signs possibly could be put up next week.

Although the Siesta Isles Association had sought multi-way stop signs at two other intersections, Maio indicated wariness that he had full board support for all four requests. At one point, Commissioner Nancy Detert voiced her reservation about having “this many all in one neighborhood.” Nonetheless, she pointed out, “Nobody knows [a] neighborhood like the people who live in the neighborhood.”

Thus, Maio sought approval of the two the Siesta Isles Association had deemed its top priorities.

Prior to that vote, Ziegler said, “Let’s try it out and see how it works.” In the future, Ziegler continued, if the association board still feels the other two intersections need the signage, “We can always revisit it.”

Tony Romanus refers to notes during the Sept. 9 TAC meeting. File photo

Asked for comments on the Dec. 11 votes, Romanus responded the following day in an email to the News Leader: “My overall feeling is how attentive and responsive the commissioners were. Commissioner Maio, as our representative, was very supportive. It seemed like the other commissioners took his lead. Keep in mind, as we navigated the process, County Staff and the Traffic Advisory Council recommended denial for every one of these requests. All five commissioners were engaged in discussion on our agenda items. I believe it was Commissioner Detert who commented that the residents are the experts since we know the issues best. Commission Chair [Charles] Hines asked for our prioritization of the stop sign requests and the BCC approved our top two. Amazing!”

Romanus added, “We’re hopeful that these changes contribute to the goal of improving pedestrian and bicyclist safety in our fine neighborhood. Our lack of sidewalks or bike lanes creates unique challenges. Time will tell!”

The first petition

In his opening presentation to the commission — regarding the Glebe Lane petition — traffic engineer Hussain explained that Glebe Lane is only 600 feet long. Six single-family homes are on one side of the street, he continued; on the other, St. Michael the Archangel Church. The road is 22 feet wide, with 11-foot-wide travel lanes, he added. “There are not sidewalks or bike lanes on Glebe Lane.”

A traffic study county staff conducted showed that the speed for the 85th percentile of traffic — a standard used in such studies — is 27 mph, Hussain noted. The average speed is 23 mph.

Staff disagreed with the request to lower the speed to 20 mph, Hussain said. That would be “difficult to enforce,” he told the commissioners.

“What would be the harm to lower the speed limit?” Maio asked, emphasizing the 600-foot length of the road, which leads to a county park. “I’m not sure how you get up to 30 mph without driving like a — foolishly. So what would be the harm?”

Maio added, “There’s a groundswell out there for these type of traffic reductions. … Do I break some sort of rulebook? Do I create a safety hazard?”

Maio then acknowledged, “I’m being sarcastic here.”

Hussain referenced the standards provided in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), which staff uses as a guide for its recommendations.

“Does that manual take into account that the road is only 600 feet long” and that it leads to a “heavily used public park? Maio asked.

Those and other factors were taken into consideration, Hussain replied.

A slide shows the view looking east on Glebe Lane. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Commissioner Ziegler noted that he has been to Glebe Park on numerous occasions and found it to be very busy, with lots of children engaged in activities. “There’s no need to turn [Glebe Lane] into a drag racing strip.”

During his first trip to the podium, Romanus explained the efforts the Siesta Isles Association’s Traffic Safety Committee put into exploring options for improved safety in the neighborhood. Residents held multiple meetings with county staff, he said, and the committee polled residents. The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office assisted by conducting a traffic study in March 2018, he added. Because that was undertaken during the height of tourist season, Romanus said, its results varied considerably from those produced by the county study conducted out of season.

Additionally, noting Siesta Isles’ location on the Key, Romanus said the neighborhood has become a cut-through for drivers from Midnight Pass Road to Siesta Village and Siesta Public Beach.

“We could have come here and asked for a million bucks for a sidewalk from Midnight Pass Road to Siesta Village and the beach,” he continued. Instead, he told the board, “These are simple, low-cost requests that we are making on the agenda today.”

Romanus also acknowledged that not every resident in Siesta Isles agreed with the proposals. “While visitors are a big problem in the neighborhood,” he pointed out, “people that live there are a problem, too, along with visitors and contractors. … We see the same cars flying through the neighborhood on a regular basis.”

Romanus further stressed the fact that no sidewalks or bike lanes exist in Siesta Isles

The Siesta Isles speed limit request

This chart provides details about traffic and speeds in Siesta Isles, based on the county traffic study. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During his second presentation that afternoon — on reducing the speed limit from 25 mph to 20 mph in Siesta Isles—  traffic engineer Hussain provided statistics from the staff study of vehicles in the neighborhood.

The 85th percentile for traffic speed varied from 27 mph to 34 mph, he said, while the average speed ranged from 23 mph to 29 mph on the five streets.

The MUCTD, Hussain noted, calls for speed limits to be set within 5 mph of the average.

He also explained that staff members worked with “Romanus and his team” to add 15-mph “advisory speed signs along the curves.”

Further, Hussain pointed out that the County Commission previously had lowered the speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph in Siesta Isles.

In questioning Hussain over this second request, Maio pointed out that the county “frowns on speed bumps,” speed humps and speed tables.

Then, referring to Romanus’ remarks about Siesta Isles being a “cut-through,” Maio asked whether Hussain had factored in “the magical world of GPS,” which directs people through the neighborhood.

County Traffic Engineer Amid Hussain refers to materials on the podium during the TAC meeting on Sept. 9. File photo

That was addressed at the TAC meeting in September, Hussain responded. The Siesta Isles Association could have a representative call firms that sell mapping devices and ask them to delete the neighborhood from options, Hussain added. Based on comments at the TAC meeting, Hussain continued, other homeowner associations have been successful in such initiatives.

“I find it hard to believe that these big companies would listen to Siesta Isles’ request,” Maio replied.

Again, Maio emphasized that no sidewalks or bicycle lanes exist in Siesta Isles; yet, “I know people speed through there.”

Maio also noted Hussain’s repetition, in regard to that second petition, of the statement that lower-than-expected speed limits are difficult to enforce. Maio advised Hussain to “strike the line forever” from future presentations on requests for speed limit reductions. “So we should have no speed limit signs?”

“This honorable board has authority to lower [the speed limit] to … 20 mph,” Hussain responded.

“I am one of those guilty ones that have cut through this neighborhood,” Commissioner Ziegler said. “The roads wind there,” he added, emphasizing the lack of sidewalks.

Then noting Hussain’s comment about the board’s being able to make whatever decision it chooses, Ziegler said, “It’s nice to finally find a perk about being on the County Commission.”

One speaker did object to the lower speed limit request for Siesta Isles. However, Ed Hutchinson acknowledged, “By the sense of [the board discussion] today, I’m the odd man out.”

The people who speed through the neighborhood are “not going to pay heed to a 20 mph speed sign,” Hutchinson said, “or a 25 mph speed sign … They have no regard for the law.”

Nonetheless, Hutchinson added, “The vast majority of people do adhere to a reasonable speed in the neighborhood.”

The stop sign requests

This graphic illustrates the placement of new multi-way stop signs at the Contento Drive intersection with Shadow Lawn Drive. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During his presentation about the four stop sign requests, Hussain told the commissioners, “Stop signs are not meant for controlling speed or … for traffic calming purposes.” They are designed to be used only to control which driver has the right of way, he added.

The Siesta Isles Association wanted top signs at the following intersections, he continued:

  • Shadow Lawn Drive at Shadow Lawn Way.
  • Shadow Lawn Drive at Contento Drive.
  • Cape Leyte Drive at Beach Way Drive.
  • Cape Leyte Drive at Canal Road.

Hussain showed the commission photos and graphics illustrating each situation. He also noted information on tables with criteria — set by an earlier commission — staff has to use in determining whether a stop sign should be installed. Points must add up to 7, Hussain emphasized, for staff to recommend a stop sign. In the Siesta Isles’ situations, he noted, the Shadow Law Drive/Shadow Lawn Way request netted 6 points.

For the Contento Drive/Shadow Lawn Drive situation, the total was 4; for Cape Leyte Drive and Beach Way Drive, the total was 5.5; and for the Cape Leyte Drive/Canal Road intersection, the total was only 2.

This chart offers details about traffic on Cape Leyte Drive and Beach Way Drive. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Four residents of the neighborhood addressed the board on the stop sign requests, with two for and two against.

One of the proponents, Vince Riva, explained that he had worked with neighborhoods on speeding issues before retiring from the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office after 33 years. “We do have a lot of volume, a lot of cars in the Isles,” he said. “A lot of cut-through.”

The lack of sidewalks exacerbates safety concerns in the neighborhood, Riva pointed out.

On the other side of the issue, Jay Kryger, who lives with his wife in the house at the “T” intersection of Shadow Lawn Drive and Shadow Lawn Way, talked of their concern that the traffic measures the association was seeking would change the character of the neighborhood.

Moreover, Kryger told the commission, the Siesta Isles Association “does not represent all of the people in the neighborhood.”

If the board approved all the stop signs, Kryger added, people then would “speed up again to make up for lost time.”
Finally, he said, “Maybe it’s a little bit of overkill to do all these things in one fell swoop.”

After making the motion to approve the two stop sign requests, Maio joked, “I’ve decided not to like [Kryger] because he made too much sense.”

Maio then pointed out once more, “People in this community have been at this for years,” trying to improve residents’ safety.