By Rachel Brown Hackney
The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is seeking a number of clarifications from the consulting firm Kimley-Horn and Associates of Sarasota regarding its traffic studies for the proposed Siesta Promenade mixed-use project.
In a document he emailed to Kimley-Horn and Sarasota County Planning and Development Services Department staff on May 4, Nathan Kautz, a traffic services engineer with FDOT’s District One, pointed out, for example, “This development cannot count on new signal timings. Our corridors are re-timed approximately once every five years or so. There is no set schedule.”
Kautz was responding on behalf of FDOT staff to the material Kimley-Horn submitted in March, when it replied to questions FDOT and Sarasota County Transportation Planning staff had provided in reviews of the latest proposals from Benderson Development for Siesta Promenade.
Planned for the northwest corner of the U.S. 41/Stickney Point Road intersection, Siesta Promenade would have 414 residential units, a 130-room hotel and 140,000 square feet of retail/commercial space, based on updated documents Benderson Development delivered to the county in March.
In January 2017, the Sarasota County Commission approved a request by Benderson Development for the county to consider designating its Siesta Promenade proposal a Critical Area Plan (CAP). Ultimate CAP approval would give Benderson more leeway with dwelling-unit density. In the meantime, the County Commission action enabled county staff to request more intensive studies than if Benderson had pursued a regular rezoning process for approximately 24 acres that long was the site of a mobile home park.
The very last line in Kautz’s 1¼-page response on May 4 was, “As traffic from [Siesta Promenade] increases, so do the frequency” of expected traffic backups on U.S. 41 at the Stickney Point Road intersection.
In its mid-March update, Kimley-Horn wrote that its analysis of road conditions and traffic counts following a February 2017 analysis “assumed signal re-timing as project mitigation, including the signal cycle length at the intersection of [State Road] 72/Stickney Point Road & US 41.”
While changing the timing of that signal “may make the intersection of US 41 and SR 72 seem to function better,” Katz replied on May 4, “[that] would serve to throw off the rest of the signal corridor along US 41.”
Katz added, “Please confirm the turn lane queues [at that intersection] were performed with current signal timings.”
One of the primary focuses of Kimley-Horn’s recommendations has been a traffic signal at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C. In its March report, the firm also noted that its traffic analysis showed that during the weekday afternoon peak traffic time for that proposed signalized intersection, the maximum queue for the westbound approach to the intersection was predicted to be one vehicle. However, its Saturday peak-hour analysis showed the number would be 13.
“One vehicle still seems unrealistic,” Kautz wrote.
Kimley-Horn’s report added, “The intersection of [Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41] is approximately 1,000 feet from the intersection of [Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C]. Therefore, the westbound queue at the intersection of SR 72 & Avenue B & C is not anticipated to back up into the signal at the intersection of SR 72 & US 41.”
Residents who live in the area of the proposed project — and a number on Siesta Key — have complained that the periods of the days Kimley-Horn conducted its traffic analysis did not match peak traffic times for beach-goers during high tourist season.
In a related issue, Kautz pointed out in his May 4 response that the signal timings Kimley-Horn used to analyze the intersections of U.S. 41/Stickney Point Road and the proposed signalized intersection of Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C “seem not to allow enough time for pedestrians to cross US 41.” That would create several issues, Kautz added. For example, if a pedestrian or bicyclist crosses at the U.S. 41 crosswalk, that will throw the U.S. 41/Stickney Point Road intersection timing “out of coordination with the rest of the signal system. This will cause issues on U.S. 41. … Queue lengths and Level of Service of the corridor will be negatively affected.”
“Level of Service” refers to the amount of congestion a driver perceives on a roadway, with A being the least problematic.
Kautz also noted that the proposed signal at Avenue B and C “seems to encourage very light queuing. Please note that this is assuming the proposed signal is synched with the US 41 and [Stickney Point Road] signal. If a pedestrian crosses US 41 and throws the signal out, the [Avenue B and C] queues will no longer be optimized and it is not known how far traffic would back up.”
Therefore, Kautz wrote, FDOT recommends that the proposed signal at Avenue B and C “be synched (not coordinated) with the signal at US 41 and [Stickney Point Road].”
When question was asked to county staff about the next steps, Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester reported that the Transportation Planning Division staff “is in receipt of FDOT comments and is conducting a sufficiency review of the CAP application.” No timeline was provided.