Florida

When the traffic gets bad, you may want to dangle over the bay to get there

The state transportation department is offering an unusual way for people to get from Sarasota to Lido Key: by dangling several hundred feet over Sarasota Bay.

While the Sarasota/Manatee Barrier Islands Traffic Study is only in its infancy, scheduled to be complete by next fall, the gondola (or aerial ropeway or tramway, as noted in the study) is a unique solution to smooth out the flow of traffic from Sarasota to Lido.

Residents will have the opportunity to learn more about the Florida Department of Transportation’s study and meet with staff at a public information workshop Tuesday in Longboat Key.

On Anna Maria Island, the north side of the study area, an option presented includes expanding bike paths along Gulf Drive from Manatee Avenue West through to Pine Avenue to accommodate electric carts. The study also suggests adding park-and-ride sites between the mainland and Anna Maria Island, adding roundabouts on the island, and coordinating with churches to make up to 570 parking spaces available to the public. A water shuttle between Bradenton Beach, Coquina Beach and Cortez is also suggested.

Aside from increasing the frequency of public transit to and from Lido Key and creating park-and-ride locations and shuttles, the study also suggests putting an electric cart path along the back of Lido Beach. Sarasota’s alternative transit options include two water shuttles — a Sarasota-City Island route or a route linking Sarasota, Bird Key, Lido Key, St. Armand’s Circle and South Lido Key Beach — and a gondola that would stop between Sarasota, Bird Key and St. Armand’s Circle.

“I think all those kinds of approaches are great,” said Longboat Key Town Commissioner Jack Daly, who is on the study’s steering committee. “There are a series of options like that that are not big-ticket items, but they add up in long range.”

While he believes the study is “on the right track,” he’s concerned that suggested accommodations for pedestrians and bicyclists on U.S. 41 in Sarasota may curtail traffic flow.

“There’s got to be a balance between the two,” he said.

The study is missing something that a few residents have called for: a third bridge to Longboat Key. But Daly said he’s OK with that.

“At this point in time, no. I really don’t see the advantages of that,” he said.

The department, in deciding what’s best in replacing the Cortez Bridge, had said a bridge to Longboat Key would cost $200 million and cause significant environmental impact: “While on the surface you might think that a third bridge might alleviate traffic, but it could also increase traffic inflow through the barrier islands.”

Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson likes the idea of more roundabouts instead of traffic lights, which he thinks would improve traffic on and off the island. But he called widening the bike paths to make room for electric vehicles a “strange suggestion.”

“We have them (electric vehicles), but our rights-of-way are not the biggest rights-of-way in the world,” he said. Johnson would rather make Holmes Beach more bike friendly.

Any alternative ideas of getting to and from the island are welcome, Johnson said, but there are limitations.

“I think we’ve got to recognize that there’s only so much you can do on this little island,” he said.

More information about the study can be found by visiting swflroads.com/sarasotamanateebarrierislands/.

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