Sarasota Bike Plan flawed
By Mike Lasche, Guest Columnist
The Herald-Tribune recently gave front-page coverage to the startling suggestions of Andrew Georgiadis, a former planner for the city of Sarasota’s Urban Design Studio.
He called for no street widening, virtually no more turn lanes or new lanes, no new downtown parking and reduced on-street parking, bike lanes behind barriers, longer red lights, and no new interstate interchanges.
For major roads, he repeated the advice he and the Urban Design Studio gave for South Tamiami Trail last year: banning motorists from the outside lane in each direction and reserving those lanes for buses, taxis and ambulances. The stated intent of all this is to “inconvenience” motorists and favor pedestrians.
When the planner was with the Urban Design Studio, the studio suggested four lanes of parallel parking, one on both sides of each direction of traffic from Coon Key Bridge to St. Armands Circle, and no circle parking garage. The studio recommended eliminating bike lanes on several roads.
In 2014, I met with city staff to protest the Vue condominium’s small setback, which led to its narrow sidewalks, looming building and concrete canyon effect. Staff told me that small setbacks, narrow sidewalks, and narrow streets were the practice of the studio, which approved the Vue design. Again, the goal was to make traffic worse.
Besides the practical problems of these proposals, there are some common flaws.
First, a Me-First or Me-Only approach is poor policy. Proven, credible design improves roads for all modes and lets people decide how to move, whether it be pedestrian, bicycle, car, bus, truck or train. It does not pick winners and losers. I direct you to the pre-eminent manuals of AASHTO (American Association of State Highway Traffic Officials), founded in 1914, upon which the Florida Department of Transportation manual and most state DOT manuals are based. AASHTO uses 103 years of experience and research to serve all road users.
Second, do we really help the pedestrian by hurting the motorist? Aren’t many pedestrians also motorists?
Third, I have been a bicycle/pedestrian advocate since the 1970s, working on the local, state and national level. Our field dismisses the anti-car crowd as radical and immature. It is childish to attack motorists. And we see that it is new road construction that provides bike lanes and wide sidewalks.
Fourth, these planners’ ideas are actually bad for walking. Small setbacks may please developers who want deeper buildings, but they lead to narrow sidewalks without room for benches, trees or bus stops. Narrow sidewalks lack buffer space between pedestrians and traffic. Tying up traffic makes it worse for everybody. Eliminating bike lanes removes buffer space and eliminates a 4-foot safe space for crossing pedestrians as they step into traffic.
For credible standards, by real experts, that actually help pedestrians, we use “Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares” by the Congress for the New Urbanism and the Institute of Transportation Engineers. As one example of the difference, the sidewalk it recommends for the Vue would be 19 to 21.5 feet wide instead of the 8-to-10-foot sidewalk that we got.
Fifth, Sarasota never voted for the government to force us out of our cars. The last census report I read showed that 76 percent of Sarasota commutes to work in a single-occupant motor vehicle. Do we want the government to create congestion? Just because you commit the sin of living in “auto-dependent” Bird Key, Lido Key, Indian Beach or any of our single-home neighborhoods, government should not punish you.
Finally, the upcoming Form-Based Code is based on the same anti-motorist approach. Sarasota needs to be ready to revamp it or reject it.
Mike Lasche is executive director of Bicycle/Pedestrian Advocates and Florida Walks and Bikes. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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