Island resident Diane Erne worries about emergency vehicles, especially fire trucks, being able to get through the area when traffic is heavy and busses or large delivery trucks are blocking the way.
“I was driving through there recently and was stopped behind a stopped bus when I noticed the new medians, Erne said in a recent phone interview. “I thought to myself, ‘how will a fire truck get through here if traffic is heavy with buses or delivery trucks in the way?’”
Indeed, unlike Midnight Pass Road, Beach Road doesn’t have an accessible shoulder that is not blocked by a standard curb. So it’s difficult if not impossible for some vehicles to pull off onto the raised shoulder between the roadway and sidewalk if an emergency vehicle is approaching. Instead, there’s just a 4-1/2 foot bike lane to the side and then the raised curb.
Prior to the new medians being installed and several of the smaller ones joined together, emergency vehicles had more opportunities to swing into the center lane or even crossover into the opposite lane if need be to get around traffic. Now, on the west end of the stretch of Beach Road adjacent to the beach parking lot, there are two continuous stretches of medians of almost 700 feet each. The effect is tunnel-like, boxing traffic in and some fear, limiting the options for drivers trying to get out of the way, or for rescue vehicles looking for openings to weave around any stopped traffic.
It’s a topic that has come up on the key before. During the planning stage for the on-demand crosswalks that were installed along Midnight Pass Road in late 2012 at the urging of the SKA, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) wanted to add medians as well. Then SKA president Catherine Luckner recalls that plan being nixed due to concerns from nearby condo residents over not being able to make left hand turns out of their developments. Walt Olsen, president of the Condo Council at the time and an engineer by trade, recalls the issue of fire/emergency vehicle access being raised. Representatives of the county fire department were reportedly in attendance at several of those meeting, and though they did not originally bring up the matter of the medians presenting an obstacle for their vehicles, especially fire trucks, Olsen says they did agree they could present a problem.
In the end, the MPR crosswalks were built without medians.
So Siesta Sand wondered if the fire department was consulted this time around prior to the recent work along Beach Road and if so, whether or not they thought the medians might impede their vehicles in times of heavy traffic.
After all, FDOT’s Greenbook, (the full title of which is Manual for Uniform Minimum Standards for design and Maintenance for streets and Highways), reads as follows in Chapter 1-section 3:
“Development of an effective emergency response program is dependent upon the nature of the highway network and the effectiveness of the operation system. Provisions for emergency access and communication should be considered in the initial planning and design of all streets and highways. Local emergency response personnel should be included in primary activities.”
Several calls were placed to Sarasota County Fire Chief Michael Regnier in recent weeks. As of press time we have not heard back directly from the Chief. We did however get a call from Fire Marshall John Reed who said he would reach out to the County’s traffic and engineering department to see if he could get us an answer. Again, as of press time, no call-back has been received.
Why the lack of information? There are several possible explanations. Maybe it’s just been a busy couple of weeks at the department. Or perhaps the new medians simply are not viewed as a serious obstacle by the fire department. Finally, perhaps they are seen as such and the department also wonders why it wasn’t consulted before they were installed.
We await an answer and will pass it along if one is forthcoming.