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Study addresses traffic, parking shortfalls on Suncoast beaches

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A new study is addressing traffic congestion and parking shortfalls on Suncoast beaches.

The Barrier Islands Traffic Study is looking at possible solutions to alleviate traffic when it comes to parking, driving, walking and biking.

The Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) requested that the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), District One, perform the comprehensive study.

"The study will examine the feasibility of improving the overall transportation infrastructure, including traffic operations and circulation, on the Sarasota/Manatee Barrier Islands as well as island-to-mainland connections," FDOT District 1 public information officer Robin Stublen says. "To ensure a comprehensive approach, this study must evaluate a variety of elements including travel patterns of users on the islands, trips on and off the islands, destination points, existing transit service, existing parking facilities, bicycle/pedestrian facilities and needs, and land development as they are related to parking. A unique element that must be considered for this study is event operations planning in relation to seasonal visitors. It is also recognized that off-island improvements may be evaluated in both Sarasota and Manatee counties."

Phase one results were just released. There are three phases in total.

Phase one took a look at 15 different studies completed in the past decade. A consulting company for FDOT then weeded out which solutions were still viable.

The study focuses on the areas between Anna Maria Island and Lido Beach.

"The study does not include Siesta Key since a request for a study was made by the Town of Longboat Key. St. Armand’s Circle as the southern limit is a logical location since there is no connection to the south and Siesta Key cannot directly access Longboat Key/Bradenton Beach/Holmes Beach/Anna Maria," Stublen explains. "It is a separate area with different characteristics."

At Bradenton Beach, the focus is on finding alternative routes around the Gulf Drive and Cortez Bridge intersection.

At St. Armands Circle, the study looks to possible remove parking around the circle once the parking garage is up and operating. Other alternatives include valet parking outside of the circle, removing parallel parking on the north side of the Lido Key exit and adding flashing signs at crosswalks. The study also considers adding "lot full" signs at parking lot entries.

The study also considers time limited and paid parking, something the City of Sarasota has been moving forward with.

For walkers, the study looks into implementing 30 pedestrian projects which includes a putting a sidewalk in Manatee County on East Bay Drive. For bikers, there are 20 bicycle project priorities. One includes a bike path on John Ringling Boulevard from Bird Key to Coon Key. Also for bikers, there are another 26 regional multi-use trail project priorities. One is the River Walk to Anna Maria Island trail project.

The study also includes possible changes to SCAT and MCAT routes, such as adding to the frequency of routes, routes to new areas and running buses later.

It also looks at park and rides at places like Van Wezel, Bayshore High School, Beachway Plaza and Paradise Bay Plaza. The study will look into proximity, sizes and shuttles when determining park and ride locations.

And water taxis are not out of the question.

Phase two includes observing and collecting data on traffic patterns on the islands. Phase three will be putting an actual plan in place. That's expected to happen in the fall of 2018.

Find the full results of phase one here.