Outside lanes between Pineapple and Lime to become protected bicycle lanes
Work is set to begin next week to transform Ringling Boulevard in downtown Sarasota into a “complete street” that can be safely utilized by all modes of travel, the City of Sarasota has announced.
The Ringling Trail project will add protected bicycle lanes to the street between Pineapple and Lime avenues in downtown Sarasota, a city news release points out. The number of lanes will be reduced from four to two.
A staff document provided to the City Commission in February 2021 said the bike lanes would be 7 feet wide and one-way. “On-street parallel parking will be relocated between the vehicle travel lane and the bike lane,” the document added.
The Ringling Trail will enhance connectivity from The Legacy Trail to the downtown core, “making the road safer for recreational cyclists and commuters,” the city news release adds. The Ringling Trail also will create “a more visitor-friendly experience that translates to economic growth for downtown businesses,” the release notes.
A city staff document provided to the city commissioners in February 2021 also pointed out that the complete street would allow residents from the Gardens of Ringling Park, Alta Vista, Laurel park and downtown to use bicycles to gain easy access to other city neighborhoods.
At least one lane of traffic is expected to be kept open through the duration of construction, the news release says. “The project is expected to be finished in early 2023.”
City Commission approves concept plan
During their regular meeting on Feb. 1, 2021, the Sarasota city commissioners voted unanimously to approve the Ringling Trail concept plan.
Assistant City Engineer Dan Ohrenstein led the presentation to the board members that night.
In recent years, Ohrenstein pointed out, the city had begun constructing roundabouts in the downtown area, getting rid of traffic signals to improve vehicular flow and to facilitate safe pedestrian crossings of streets.
He then explained that, based on the fact that the traffic counts on Ringling Boulevard were lower than 10,000 a day, the street was “a great candidate” for transformation into a “complete street.” The change likely would not affect its capacity for motor vehicles, Ohrenstein added.
Nonetheless, he said, it would be necessary to monitor the four right-turn lanes on the affected portion of the road, “to see if they need adjustments” over time.
Those are as follows, according to the traffic study undertaken for the city by consulting firm Kimley-Horn, in Sarasota:
- The right turn from Ringling Boulevard onto southbound School Avenue.
- The right turn from Ringling Boulevard onto northbound U.S. 301.
- The right turn from School Avenue onto eastbound Ringling Boulevard.
- The right tum from Osprey Avenue onto eastbound Ringling Boulevard.
Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch did ask Ohrenstein about the expectation that the level of service for the complete street would drop from C to D. (Level of service is a term used to describe a driver’s experience of traffic flow, with A being the best and F being the worst.)
Ohrenstein told her that Level of Service D, “in terms of city driving, is pretty good.”
Moreover, Ohrenstein pointed out, “Case study after case study” has shown that providing protected bicycle lanes improves traffic flow.
The design he showed the commissioners also retained “as many parking spaces” as possible, he noted.
Landscaping will be incorporated into the initiative, Ohrenstein he added.
Ahearn-Koch noted the widespread support for the project among community residents.
Then-Mayor Hagen Brody pointed out, “The economic impact to downtown is going to be monumental, massive,” given the hundreds of thousands of people who use The Legacy Trail each year. The complete street design also will enable residents on the barrier islands and in downtown Sarasota to have easy access to The Legacy Trail, whose North Extension ends near Payne Park, he said. (See the related article in this issue.)
Already, through April, the nonprofit Friends of the Legacy Trail has documented 304,790 users on the Trail, which extends north from the Venice Train Depot. Altogether, in 2021, the Trail saw 479,043 users, the Friends organization reports. Thus, for the first four months of this year, with the North Extension complete, the number of people who have been on the Trail represents about 57% of the total for 2021.
In making the motion to approve the concept plans, Commissioner Liz Alpert added, “I think [the complete street is] going to be great, and I look forward to being able to take my bike over to The Legacy Trail.”
She noted that she lives only half a block off Ringling, between Palm and Gulfstream avenues.
Commissioner Kyle Battie, who seconded Alpert’s motion, said, “I think, with the direction that this city is moving, with [The Bay Park], The Legacy Trail and everything that’s going on, the number of people that are moving here, it’s going to be a great addition to the city and helping to move traffic along, getting people to use other [types] of transportation” and enticing them to go outside.
“Just get outside and enjoy this beautiful weather, this paradise that we live in and that we all should be partaking [in] and enjoying,” Battie continued. “Thumbs up.”