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Goals for Paid Parking on Siesta Key

By Bob Stein

County staff has scheduled a workshop on Wednesday, February 27, at the County Administration Center 1660 Ringling Blvd. in downtown Sarasota starting at 9 AM. Director of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department Nicole Rissler, reported in a video news release that the workshop “will be a community forum for people to come out and share their thoughts and concerns about Siesta Key traffic and parking.”

The first issue to resolve in the paid parking decision is what is the goal of paid parking?  Is it to raise money?  Is it to reduce traffic or something else?

Most believe the focus should be keeping local cars off the road on the Key, along with reducing traffic coming onto the key seasonally, and raising money to accomplish this goal.

SCAT’s Siesta Key Breeze Trolley, reduces local traffic by providing free rides on Siesta Key, seven days a week, with 30 minute service from Turtle Beach to the Village at set times. Last year, the ridership for the trolley exceeded 250,000.

Businesses on the Key believe the trolley needs to expand its route to cover almost all of Ocean Blvd, if only seasonally. The current trolley route comes into the Village stopping at Morton’s before heading back south to Turtles Beach missing half of the Village and all the condos toward Higel Ave. encouraging all these condo dwellers to drive their cars.

Off island parking

The county is looking into renting space at shopping centers off the key and expanding the trolley seasonally to pick up riders, thus keeping the cars off of Stickney Point Road. I ask the question, why pay rent when the county owns Phillippi Park? I suggest expanding the parking at the park. This could be done with shell.

Since we don’t know where the people will go on the island, where would the off-island trolley drop off the riders, Turtle Beach, Crescent Beach, public beach or the Village?

The old Sheriff’s training facility at 6647 S. Midnight Pass Road could be the drop point. The building that acted as the training facility has since been raised and the rest of the property needs to be developed. This location could act as the hub for the on-island trolley to move visitors to their desired destination.

If one goal is to raise money, measurement of parking receipts, less expenses to collect them, should be easy.  Next questions are what would you use the profits for? And will the paid parking yield sufficient funds for the identified use. 

Looking at another island

The Town of Fort Myers Beach has paid parking on the entire island with 296 spots dedicated to raising 1.1 million dollars annually. Year round residents pay a small annual fee to park while visitors pay an hourly rate.  Siesta Key Public Beach has almost 980 spots alone at the public beach parking lot. There is a chance that over 3 million dollars could be raised.

The money raised from paid parking could pay for the trolleys, keeping the public areas cleaned, trees pruned and money set aside for some unforeseen expense from this venture.

The other side

If the goal is to reduce traffic, measurement will be difficult.  Some believe that every car that may be discouraged by the parking fee will be replaced by another car that does not care about the fee and thus, no reduction of traffic.  As one of the residents said recently, “Sadly, I believe the end result will be that those with less discretionary funds will enjoy the beach less, and only those with more discretionary funds will be able to enjoy the “public” beach more.”

In any case, until the goal and performance measurement are determined, discussion of paid parking implementation maybe fruitless. (See companion article)