City resident plans program modeled on one in Bolivia to try to promote traffic safety, especially in regard to navigating Sarasota’s major roundabouts
Seen any zebras lately in downtown Sarasota?
Drivers who have not noticed any so far likely will have the opportunity to do so in coming weeks, thanks to downtown resident David Lough.
The goal is to help educate and caution the public — especially visitors — about the need to pay special attention to navigating the City of Sarasota’s major roundabouts.
Lough is a fan of the roundabouts, he told The Sarasota News Leader in an Oct. 4 email: “My hunch is I can get to the airport a good five minutes sooner when traveling from downtown,” thanks to the roundabouts at the U.S. 41 intersections at Fruitville Road and 10th and 14th streets.
Nonetheless, he readily acknowledges that they can be a challenge to others.
In fact, he noted in an Oct. 3 email to the News Leader, “I am told there have been roughly 17 traffic crashes at the Gulfstream [Avenue] roundabout over the last two months.”
His familiarity with a program in Bolivia gave him an idea that he decided to explore with both the Sarasota Police Department and City of Sarasota administrative staff.
As Wikipedia explains, “zebras” in La Paz, Bolivia, serve as “urban educators.” They “work to calm traffic and educate citizens in road safety.”
The program was founded in 2001, “in response to growing traffic concerns caused by rural flight in Bolivia and the resulting increase in commuter traffic,” Wikipedia points out. The La Paz city government began employing at-risk teens and young adults after providing them two months of training in how to encourage safe driving behavior at pedestrian crossings and traffic signals.
Wikipedia also reports that a similar program using mimes began in Bogota “as a humorous way to educate citizens about road safety, on the theory that drivers might respond better to their mockery than to normal law enforcement.”
Additionally, Lough told the News Leader, “ ‘Zebra Crossing’ is a slang term used in the [United Kingdom] for crosswalks.”
When he contacted the Sarasota Police Department to explain his proposal, Lough said, he made a number of points. Among them is that “the idea here is to make ’slowing down’ before entering a roundabout area ’the right thing to do’ — a driver is encouraged to slow down in a whimsical manner.”
He emphasized in his email to the Police Department that “the Zebras would not travel into the road …” Instead, he noted, they would “remain say, 8-10’ away from the curb.”
He received the following response from Sgt. Anthony Frangioni of the Traffic and Marine Patrol Unit:
“I was reviewing your Zebra Traffic Calming plan. You have every right to move forward with your idea. I just want you to be aware of a few things. You can’t be in any roundabout [as that] would be a violation of [a] Florida State Statute. The roundabouts are considered a traffic control device and are not even to be used for pedestrian crossings. Also please keep in mind not to approach any vehicle that is located in a travel lane.”
Unfortunately, Frangioni added, “The Sarasota Police Department does not have any officers that can assist with this project.”
Nonetheless, the sergeant continued, “I do appreciate your ‘out of the box’ thinking on this. I look forwarded to seeing the results.”
On Oct. 4, Lough was able to take a big step forward with the program: The board of the Downtown Sarasota Condominium Association (DSCA) voted that day to sponsor it.
Additionally on Oct. 4, Lough told the News Leader, he met with Deputy City Manager Pat Robinson to go over the details of us plans. Although Robinson told him the city would not participate in the effort, he could offer the city’s support for the initiative.
“Pat did caution me that the Zebra cannot hold a ’Stop’ sign for some legal reasons, but ‘Yield’ and I think ‘Slow’ are ok,” Lough wrote the News Leader in an Oct. 5 email.
Lough hopes to kick off the program at the beginning of tourist season, he said, when many part-time residents also are returning to the community.
“I’m am not sure when we ‘launch,’ ” he wrote in an Oct. 3 email, though he has been undertaking what he called “Beta testing” in various locations near city roundabouts.
He also is contemplating the best spots for the zebras. Along with approaches to the roundabouts, he wrote, he is considering other busy spots, such as the intersections of Fruitville Road and U.S. 301/Washington Boulevard and Bahia Vista Street and U.S. 41.
Further, he has purchased a couple of zebra costumes, one of which he hopes can be accessorized to make it clear that that zebra is female. The zebras’ tentative names are Zooey and Zacky.
Perhaps, as the program gets underway, Lough added, he might create a webpage and a Facebook page, both of which would feature the zebras’ adventures in traffic education.
First, though, Lough will need to recruit volunteers to wear the costumes and carry the signs he also has bought.
He has promised the News Leader more details as he firms them up, including contact information for volunteers.
In the meantime, drivers may spot more zebras as his beta testing continues.