ROAD DIET DANGER
Sarasota City Commission
Monday, Feb. 1
Sarasota City Hall (East Entrance) – 1565 1st Street
Attend and Speak and/or Email the Commissioners
Like Traffic Congestion in the City of Sarasota?
Then you’ll love the plan up for votes by the City Commission Monday night, February 1, after 6 pm, to impose Road Diets on several City roads, including Ringling Boulevard.
A Road Diet shrinks the road by removing vehicle lanes, in this case from four lanes all the way down to two. It also makes those two lanes narrower. Bike lanes are added instead.
This is part of City staff’s push for decades to embrace traffic congestion. They want to force people out of their cars so that we somehow walk and bike wherever we need to go, or ride buses that get caught in traffic too. It’s part of staff’s longtime bias towards developers – often not even enforcing Codes or collecting fees, as well as eliminating setbacks and public hearings and reducing tree protections.
After all, if we don’t care about traffic congestion, then we don’t need to care about the scale of proposed developments.
Previously, City staff sought road diets on Fruitville Road and before that on US 41 along the bayfront south of Gulfstream Avenue. Both times residents rose up and the City Commission shot staff down.
This time, they are moving more covertly. On Monday night’s agenda, you will see nothing in the listed business or in the staff summaries about removing vehicle lanes. Instead, it’s all about creating “trails” and “complete streets” by “repurposing” the lanes.
Where previously staff conducted widely publicized public workshops to discuss their plans, this time they just produced a propaganda video and did an extremely biased online survey by invited participants, almost half of whom do not live in the City (and 19 percent of whom are even outside the County).
For instance, residents in my condominium, Rivo at Ringling, have known nothing about this, even though it will take away two of the four lanes of a major road we drive often, right next to our building.
Monday night, there is not even a public hearing, in which citizens can speak for up to five minutes each. Instead, the Road Diets have been slipped in with the usual business. Nevertheless, state law requires that the Commissioners allow public comment before any actions, which they are allowing for three minutes per person per Agenda Item.
Prior to Agenda Item X.1 – approval of the “Ringling Trail” (Road Diet), there is Agenda Item IX.1 — approval of the Transportation Project Priority List. It places the Ringling Road Diet as Priority #5, and includes Road Diets for 10th, 12th and 17th Streets.
The only project that actually adds any road lanes is turn lanes at Ken Thompson Parkway and SR 789, to help barrier island traffic. However, that has been bumped down from #6 priority in the 2020 list to #20 in 2021. (The Ringling Road Diet was not even on the priority list last year).
Although staff says the Ringling Road Diet is to link up with the Legacy Trail for bicyclists, there is another more suitable route, which does not cross busy US 301 and has already been constructed by the City. That is the route favored by leading bicycle and pedestrian advocate Mike Lasche, who opposes the Ringling Road Diet. He recognizes, as we all should, that the City should facilitate all forms of transportation, but not at the expense of the form used for 83 percent of all trips, that is private driving.
The Ringling Road Diet also eliminates all but nine of the parking spaces on Ringling that serve the courthouse complex, closes an access to Ringling from two streets, and creates other problems.
In addition to their deceptive survey, City staff is trying to mislead Commissioners about traffic counts on Ringling Boulevard. They falsely state that traffic on the road has been decreasing over the past five years (not counting 2020).
In fact, however, the data shows the traffic increasing sharply for the first three of those years. On Ringling east of Orange for example (and the trend is consistent elsewhere on the road), 7,800 average annual daily trips were counted in 2015; 8,100 in 2016; and 8,300 in 2017.
Then the state traffic counts show an unexplained drop to 7,200 daily trips in 2018. On all segments of the road, the exact same count for 2018 is repeated in 2019. Staff also says that traffic on Ringling is “lower than it was in 2002.” Another cherry-picked year?
If this assumption of diminishing traffic use is allowed to dismiss any concern about the Road Diet congesting Ringling, without seeking explanations for the anomalies and looking at the full data, then the City is making a serious error.
Another part of this is money. If the Ringling Road Diet is approved Monday night, staff will promptly spend about $900,000 to restripe the road to remove the two driving lanes and install “delineator posts” to separate the bike paths.
Then in some future year, for Phase 2 of the project, the City will undo all of that by milling and repaving the whole road and striping it again, installing permanent bike lane separations and landscape islands, as well as replacing a traffic light and – get this – removing brick pavers to replace them with asphalt. The cost of that Phase 2 of the Ringling Road Diet? More than $1,600,000 dollars.
The City of Sarasota faces a shortfall in its transportation funding from the pandemic, particularly in sales tax revenue. Yet the City Commission has failed to examine and adjust its priorities accordingly. If it does, it should find that these Road Diets, even if good sense is suspended and they are deemed arguably meritorious, should not come at the expense of more worthy projects. Certainly, at a minimum, the wasteful Phase 1 of the Ringling Road Diet should be abandoned and the project put off until there is enough money to just do Phase 2 (hopefully keeping the brick pavers).
Please be a part of protecting our ability to drive without gridlock, saving taxpayer dollars from being wasted and advancing diligent government by our elected leaders rather than blindly letting the tail (City staff) wag the dog.
Please show up Monday night (with a mask) and speak if you can, and at least email the City Commissioners.
If nothing else, please ask them to put off any action on Agenda Items IX.1 (Transportation Project Priorities) and X.12 (Ringling Road Diet) until there can be full, adequate, honest public outreach and input and until the facts and alternatives can be better determined and considered.
President of Control Growth Now
Pd. Pol. Adv. by CGN PAC