FDOT to start pedestrian/bicycle safety improvements at Stickney Point Road/Midnight Pass Road intersection; SKA’s beach trash cleanup initiative moving forward; resident applauds Sheriff’s Office for its handling of the July Fourth crowds; and county staff explain parking of ‘sleeper cabs’ at the beach
A Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) project finalized almost a year ago to improve pedestrian safety at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Midnight Pass Road will get underway later this month, the state agency announced on Aug. 8.
The project will include a pedestrian refuge island at the northeast corner of the intersection and tightening of the right turn lane from Stickney Point Road onto Midnight Pass Road, an FDOT news release says. “This addition will provide pedestrians and bicyclists with an improved crossing and encourage motorists to use a slower speed when turning north onto Siesta Key,” the release says. The approximately $500,000 project is expected to be completed in early 2017, the release adds.
“FDOT developed these improvements after receiving feedback from the community,” the release notes.
The latter sentence is a bit of an understatement. After considerable pushback from members of the Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA) in September 2015, FDOT staff appeared two days later before the Siesta Key Association with a revised plan. FDOT engineers originally proposed removing the right-hand acceleration lane, but SKVA members stressed that it was a benefit to motorists heading north.
L.K. Nandam, FDOT district operations manager in Sarasota, said during the Sept. 3, 2015 SKA meeting that a raised concrete separator would be constructed where striping is in place to create a physical barrier to try to prevent motorists from attempting illegal moves around pedestrians or cyclists.
Further, the design Nandam discussed called for the crosswalk on Stickney Point Road to be connected to the crosswalk on South Midnight Pass Road.
FDOT’s contractor, Ajax Paving Industries of Florida Inc., is expected to begin work in about two weeks, FDOT spokesman Robin Stublen said in an Aug. 8 telephone interview with The Sarasota News Leader. Jennifer Dorning, the public information officer for Cella Molnar & Associates who is working on behalf of FDOT, told the News Leader that the information she had received calls for work to get underway the week of Aug. 21. Signs will go up in the vicinity of the construction to alert drivers to the starting date, she and Stublen both pointed out.
“Crews will work on the project during daytime and nighttime hours,” the news release says. Motorists should expect lane closures from 10:30 p.m. to 7 a.m., the release adds. Some sidewalk closures will be necessary, too, the release notes.
Working to keep the beach cleaner
During the Aug. 4 SKA meeting, Veronica Murphy provided an update on the garbage collection initiative she organized for the July Fourth holiday and talked of how she is working to expand it.
As SKA Director Joe Volpe pointed out in introducing her, the SKA’s efforts to keep the public beach and beach accesses clean “started out kind of small,” but they are growing. Murphy “has done a great job spearheading this,” he added.
For three days encompassing the holiday last month, Murphy explained, she and other volunteers handed out 1,000, 10-gallon trash bags to people going to the public beach so they could collect all of their garbage and throw it away after their visit. People were lined up to accept the bags, she noted.
Murphy is planning a similar initiative for the Labor Day period, when she and volunteers plan to distribute 3,000 to 5,000 bags, she added. Anyone wishing to help out may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Further, Murphy has been working with Sarasota County staff and representatives of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, she said, to encourage people or businesses to adopt a beach access. “It wouldn’t be a formal program,” she explained, as no signage would be erected akin to the county’s Adopt-a-Road program. She characterized it as “more of a pride of ownership kind of thing.”
People would schedule time one day a week to clean up the access, she added.
As for the beach in general: “I see a lot more people now on the beach taking a bag with them,” she continued.
She has been talking with the managers of all the condominiums from the Gulf & Bay Club, which is next to the public beach, all the way south to Stickney Point Road, Murphy told the audience of about 40 people. Based on those discussions, she continued, she learned that approximately 43,000 extra people are on the Key each month from January through May. That does not include those who stay for periods of time in condos they own, Murphy pointed out. Altogether, she said, by her estimate, about 200,000 more people may be on the beach during season.
Her plan, she explained, is to work with the managers of the condominium complexes so they will hand out trash bags to their guests and ask them to use the bags on the beach. “All the managers of those [complexes] thought that was a great idea. … That was part of my hurdle.”
A lot of garbage collects on the Gulf side of condo buildings along that stretch of the island, she pointed out, including “an awful lot of plastic water bottles …”
SKA Vice President Bob Stein added that he plans to contact the managers about keeping those areas clean, too.
Another facet of concern, Murphy noted, is that “people can bring anything they want on the beach. There’s nobody watching.” On Aug. 2, she said, “there was a monkey on the beach.”
On July Fourth, she added, people took grills out onto the shoreline and then dumped coals in the sand after they had finished cooking. She also has seen visitors hauling “huge speakers” onto the beach, she pointed out. Therefore, she also is seeking help for Labor Day weekend — between 7 and 9 a.m. — to monitor what people take from the beach park parking lots to the shore.
In response to a question about the trash bags, Murphy said they are biodegradable. When Siesta resident Michael Consentino pointed out that the bags should be brown or green, so wildlife will not be tempted to eat them, Murphy responded that she is working with Costco to get such bags.
Furthermore, Murphy told the audience, she was scheduled to meet with county staff on Aug. 8 to ask about removal of garbage more regularly from the beach and the accesses over the upcoming holiday weekend. “I think they’ll do it as long as we tell them it needs to be done,” she added of county workers, saying she does not believe staff realizes how quickly dumpsters and garbage cans fill up during high-usage periods at the beach.
Siesta resident Jean Cannon pointed out that the dumpsters at Beach Accesses 9 and 10 typically overflow during such peak times. “I’m going to start taking pictures,” Cannon added, as evidence of the situation for county staff.
In conclusion, Volpe explained of the SKA and its members, “We don’t want to be a trash-collecting group of people. That’s not our job. Our goal is to educate people coming to the island,” as well as students in the county schools. “It’s a total program we’re looking at setting up.”
One other long-range goal, he continued, is to win permission from county staff to install LED message boards at the two entries to the island to provide appropriate information or suggestions to visitors.
For example, Murphy said, “‘Take a walk; take a bag.’”
Speaking of the Fourth …
The Aug. 4 SKA meeting was the first opportunity for Sheriff’s Office personnel to discuss how members of that organization felt about the island’s July Fourth festivities, and the officers received high praise from one person in the audience.
A woman who said she has been going to the beach the past eight years for the fireworks show produced by the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce applauded the number of law enforcement officers helping maintain control of the crowd. “It was not as chaotic” as it has been, she added.
Moreover, because deputies limited drivers from entering the parking lots at the public beach when spaces were not available, the woman pointed out, vehicles did not back up on Beach Road. “[It] was much more orderly.
Deputy Chris McGregor explained during the July 5 Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA) session that Sheriff’s Office personnel communicated to each other news about openings of spaces, so officers could let in more drivers at those times. That kept people from constantly circling the parking lots, he told the News Leader, as they have been known to do.
That repetitive circling in search of a space “builds animosity,” Lt. Donny Kennard replied, which leads to disturbances. After spending so much time driving around, he continued, people end up in a bad mood by the time they are able to park and then head to the beach.
He thanked the woman for her comments.
Speaking of the beach …
During the Aug. 2 Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA) meeting, Michael Shay — who serves as that organization’s liaison to the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp. — had a question for Lt. Kennard and Sgt. Jason Mruczek of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office.
When he passed the Siesta Public Beach parking lot about 10:30 a.m. the previous Sunday, Shay said, he saw at least three tractor-trailer “sleeper” cabs there. Is that legal?
Mruczek replied that he believes county staff is allowing them to stay there until a certain time in the morning. Mruczek added that no restriction prevents such parking.
“Interesting,” Shay said. “They were huge.” He noted that they take up about four spaces, and one was partially blocking a travel lane in the lot.
Deputy Jason Strom explained that Sheriff’s Office personnel try to get such cabs situated so they do not block traffic.
When the News Leader asked county staff about the sleeper cabs’ use of the parking lot, county spokesman Jason Bartolone provided this response from staff of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department:
“Per Sarasota County ordinance, parking lots are closed in all park facilities from midnight to 6 a.m. unless otherwise ordered by the [County Commission]. There are two signs that allocate 15 RV/large vehicle spaces at Siesta Beach before 10 a.m. The signs can be easily overlooked or actually blocked by those very vehicles. If these spots are not utilized by 10 a.m. they are free to be used by anyone. Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources staff work cooperatively on a daily basis with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office to regulate activities including parking enforcement. We encourage citizens and visitors to contact the sheriff’s office if they observe any suspicious activity or parking violations.”