Sarasota looking at two new downtown locations for roundabouts

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- City manager Tom Barwin says city commissioners are heading toward having the largest network of roundabouts in the state. The success of a few roundabouts downtown has caused the city to move ahead to build more -- including in a very high-profile area that is sure to cause controversy.

Supporters like the idea of fewer traffic lights, but others think the roundabouts are dangerous.

Sarasota already has three roundabouts at smaller downtown intersections: one at the Five Points intersection on Main Street, and two others nearby on Ringling Boulevard at Pineapple and Palm avenues. But stand by for 5 or 6 more.

Possibilities for new roundabouts include U.S. 41 and University Parkway, a little farther south at U.S. 41 and MLK, U.S. 41 and Fruitville Road, Ringling and Pine near the post office, and now possibly the most controversial of all: U.S. 41 and Ringling Boulevard.

Resident Irish Wilson isn't against roundabouts, but he thinks this area by the bayfront is way too busy to slow traffic down to a crawl. “It's too busy, somebody will get hurt.”

That's the last thing the city wants, but it's been trying for years to bring downtown and the bayfront together, and they think roundabouts are the way to go. “They're in the city plans because they are designed to calm traffic and eventually make the bayfront area more pedestrian-friendly for the visitors that are here and moving back and forth between the bayfront and our cultural attractions and our emerging downtown district,” says city manager Tom Barwin.

He says Sarasota is emerging toward being the state leader in traffic circles. “If they're all completed, it'll be the single largest network of roundabouts to date in Florida, as far as I've been told.”

Some pedestrians, like Ken Doyle, think roundabouts are a good start. “There's too many lights on 41. I think rotaries would be interesting, but ultimately I think a bridge for pedestrians would be best.”

The two locations that moved forward at Monday night’s meeting were Ringling and 41, and Ringling and Pine.

The plans are still the design phase, so they won't be open, Barwin says, for about 3-5 years. Local taxes going to be used to build them, but the city is hoping for federal help.