We are in the peak of season in Sarasota, and I don’t mean tourist season. I mean the political season. And it’s very apparent at the City Commission with the two commissioners working hard to get things done during their respective election campaigns. As incumbents, they don’t have much to run on since they were only appointed last November. Their effort is in earnest. Because showing unity and a solid direction, pay off could be seen at the polls. But in that earnest, citizens are showing concern about the decisions made in haste and in lieu of due process, all to get it done before the election.
One Commissioner in particular, Eileen Normile, has made traffic a focus of her time on the board. Understandably so, since she lives at the heart of the traffic problem – Gulf Stream and 41. In February, she suggested a traffic summit to “explore ideas about how to get traffic moving on the causeway and at its intersections with U.S. 41 at one end and St. Armand’s Circle at the other.” – Herald.
I’m not sure if that summit has been held, but change in that area of the city was immediate. An alteration of the direction in lanes and an addition of a “right turn only” lane was added to the intersection of US 41 and Fruitville. Claiming credit on her campaign page, Eileen Normile’s post read “They (The Observer) forgot to mention who asked the FDOT to consider doing this! It was Commissioner Eileen Normile!”
Normally, decisions to change the flow of traffic in such a heavily congested area involve traffic studies prior to any changes. “A study typically consists of collecting data, projecting traffic volumes, and identifying the improvements required for the transportation system.” According to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), “in this case, that did not happen” If Ms. Normile’s fanpage is accurate, it appears that she called FDOT and the change was made. And only now, after the changes were made, is the traffic study being conducted. For the drivers who take US 41 north or south, you have become the guinea pigs in a grand experiment.
In the month of January, 2015 there were 4 crashes reported at 41 & Fruitville. In February, there were zero reported crashes at US 41 & Fruitville Rd. In the month of March (the same month that the lane changes were made) there have been 14 total crashes reported at US 41 & Fruitville Road. Since the restriping of the intersection on 3/11/15, there have been 12 crashes. One of those accidents was a collision that sent people to the hospital. If you compare that to last year, you will find that there were 5 crashes reported at the intersection, March 2014.
Residents of the area are in an uproar over what appears to be a lack of concern for safety. A flooding of calls are coming in, not only to FDOT, but also to City Hall. Videos, taken by area residents, are being sent in as evidence of how harrowing the experience is to drive that intersection, followed by pleas to change it back. Judging by the uptick of accidents, I have to question the judgement of the decision makers when they skipped the process of a traffic study. Because in their haste, they skipped over things like proper signage, reflective roadway markers, and notification to the area residents who use the road the most.
On Tuesday, FDOT had workers measuring the flow of traffic at that intersection. But what good is a study when you have no base line? How many more accidents will have to occur before someone realizes it was a really bad mistake? Change it back. Now.