Beverly B. Arias
Whether you have chosen to live here, or are visiting our lovely Florida paradise, Siesta Key can be a welcome respite from a workday routine, a retired career, or the mainland rush. While here on Siesta Key, it would be wise to be prepared to Slow Down! As our beloved island’s name implies, or really it is more an invitation, siesta is relaxation. Just crossing the bridge onto the island, appreciating the scenic water views and tropical landscape, one can take comfort in a Siesta Key arrival.
The main streets of Siesta Key are filled with walkers, bikers, joggers, and shoppers. Driving through much of this activity takes great care and watchfulness. On some parts of the Key, there are stretches of quiet road where it might be tempting to kick that car or motorcycle into gear and feel the rush of the wind as you take off. Though it may look like there’s only a light pedestrian presence, maybe just a few out enjoying a bike ride, driving at high speeds on Siesta roads could suddenly be cut short by a darting animal, an unfamiliar tourist, a distracted child, slower moving seniors, and also driver error. Speeding on Siesta Key is unnecessary and can put residents and visitors in harm’s way.
Speed limits on the Key go no higher than 40 miles per hour with the lowest speed of 20 mph through Siesta Village. Lower speed limits are set around active areas such as church and school entrances, beach entrances, and shopping areas. On Midnight Pass Road, which runs the length of the Key and almost entirely through residential areas, cars drive right beside people on foot, on bikes, or walking their dogs. The so-called “hump bridge” over the Grand Canal on north Midnight Pass Rd is a narrowed roadway shared by cars and bikes and the incline can create a blind approach. Yet this bridge is frequently the launch of a high speed joy ride endangering the many bikers and pedestrians who enjoy this stretch of shared road.
Siesta Key Association (SKA) is a committed advocate for safety on our island. About three years ago, with dedicated attention by SKA Director, Joe Volpe, SKA worked with Sarasota County to secure six speed radar signs for traffic calming measures on our busiest roadways. During our April SKA meeting, guest speaker, Ryan Montague from Sarasota County Mobility & Traffic, reviewed the benefits of the radar devices since the last one was installed on Siesta Key in 2011. Speed radar signs have been strategically placed around the Key to alert drivers and discourage driving above posted speed limits. These signs use technology to measure and display the speed of approaching vehicles. Before the radar devices became fully active, they were first used to collect data during a preliminary period called ‘stealth mode’. During this time, vehicle speed data is recorded to establish a baseline in order to compare traffic speed data before and after installation of the radar signs. The signs on Siesta Key were placed on both north and south locations of Midnight Pass Rd, on Beach Rd by Siesta Beach, and on Ocean Blvd.
Naturally, when the radar signs are first installed, cars will generally slow down. However, they tend to increase speed after the signs have been in place for a longer period. It has been about 1 ½ years since installation of the signs began on Siesta Key. Traffic data collection between December, 2012, and end of March, 2013, still recorded traffic traveling at speeds slightly higher than the posted speed limits, and there were some unique incidents of speed as high as 69 mph and 94 mph! Mr. Montague cautioned that the signs are not infallible as it was possible that even a bicycle spoke could have been part of the speed recording. The good news, however, is that for the most part, less than 1% of drivers recorded by the radar signs drove at speeds higher than the stated limits as compared to the mainland’s benchmark expectation of around 15%. Moreover, based on 6 month post-installation studies, the speed radar signs on Siesta Key have proven to be more effective and less costly than other methods of traffic calming such as infrastructure changes for speed bumps and speed tables that have been placed in other areas of Sarasota.
Other good news for Siesta Key is that our Snowy Plovers have established several nesting sites in the dunes along Siesta Beach. Their nests, which require 100 feet of distance and protected space during and after incubation, are marked by special ‘buffers’. Nesting information can be seen on signs provided by Florida Fish and Wildlife. This preparation is made so that Snowy Plover chicks ‘arrive and survive’ in advance of heavy summer tourism and storm season which begins in June. Training for volunteers to monitor the chicks after they’re born will be offered by Sarasota Audubon in April and in May. SKA Vice President, Michael Shay, successfully recruited over 30 volunteers for ‘Keep Sarasota Beautiful–Great American Cleanup’ on April 27th. SKA Directors and Members volunteered throughout the two day annual Siesta Fiesta selling t-shirts to support free community events held in Siesta Village. Volunteers are always needed for the Adopt-a-Road cleanup hosted by SKA every few months. If you are interested in participating in these volunteer opportunities, please contact SKA at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SKA holds its monthly meetings the first Thursday each month, 4:30pm at St. Boniface Episcopal Church – Room F. We invite everyone to a special presentation during our May 2nd meeting. SKA hosts Edward J. McCrane, Jr., the Emergency Management Chief for Sarasota County Emergency Management Services. Chief McCrane will present “Hurricanes and more: Emergency Preparedness”. We remember that last year, “Debby” became a tropical storm on June 23rd, and a state of emergency was declared on June 24th. Special informational handouts and updates on our new Emergency Operations Center will be offered.
With its focus on maintaining and enhancing the quality of life on the Key, the Siesta Key Association’s representation of island resident interests ultimately benefits everyone who spends time on Siesta Key. SKA’s website is www.siestakeyassociation.com. “Like” us on Facebook!