The Greater Sarasota Chamber Aims to Turn Concerned Citizens into Traffic Policy Experts



Sarasota’s most dedicated policy wonks gathered last night at The Francis in Downtown Sarasota to hear “A Comprehensive Review of Mobility, Transportation, and Local Congestion.” It says a lot about our community that more than fifty interested community members, as well as current and past city commissioners, were eager to spend their evening learning the nitty-gritty of such arcane subjects.

The program was the first in a series of six called Grid Un-Locked, organized by the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce and supported by the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, Tablesiede Restaurant Group, and SRQ Media. The guest speaker, Demian Miller, a principal with transport and community planning firm Tindale Oliver, held forth for nearly 50 minutes on a wide range of related topics. It was the first installment of what Sarasota Chamber President Kevin Cooper described as a “six class course” designed to turn community members into experts.

Miller warned the audience that it was going to be detail heavy. He covered the ranking system for the average travel speeds of throughways--designated “A” through “F”--which can be a bit misleading as it does not reflect the same pass/fail judgment as school grades. Participants learned details about the pneumatic hoses that they drive over on occasion in the road and how data gathered from them is used to evaluate traffic patterns, including the particular information of how high a spike is expected during “rush hour” traffic for a given street. Miller shared the interesting tidbit that traffic intensity is judged based on the 100th highest hour from any given year. This 100th hour system caused some concern in the audience as questioners wondered if a seasonal community such as Sarasota might be incorrectly evaluated by the method.

Perhaps most surprising was the fact that the amount of traffic on the roads in the Sarasota area has increased far less than you might think. Traffic is driven in large part by both population growth and the economy. Nationwide traffic per capita has been depressed for the past decade and has only recently seen a fast increase as the economy has rebounded.

The population of the City of Sarasota over the past twenty-five years has grown less than 1% percent a year, while the population of Sarasota County has grown less than 2% per a year over the same period. Florida has grown at nearly twice that rate with some counties averaging as high as 5.5% per year. The growth of the city population, even over such a long window of time, has been relatively incremental. The faster-growing surrounding county has increased by about 30%.

“The point I make, and it is something that most of you probably know intuitively," says Miller, "the changes in traffic around the city, particularly when you get up around the interstate, are probably more about what’s happening with the government in the unincorporated part of the county or other cities in the county than what’s happening within [the city of ] Sarasota. You’ve got what you can control and that should be your main priority, and you’ve got what influences you and that should be your number two priority.”

Another unexpected piece of information is that fully half of all traffic slowdowns and delays are the results of car accidents and the post-accident period of traffic disruption. The single best thing that city drivers could do to keep everyone moving smoothly is to not hit each other. Easier said than done, but it is an area that traffic planners take seriously as they explore ways to improve traffic safety with techniques like adjusting the timing of traffic signals, and using visual signifiers to help drivers not miss important signs and traffic markings. A tip Miller shared with attendees is that when you see a traffic signal with an unusually large yellow frame surrounding it, it is probably that way because many drivers before you have crashed their way through that intersection. Approach with caution, be safe, and keep the streets flowing smoothly.

If this deep-dive on traffic and transport has caught your interest, reserve your seat at the remaining five events in the series by visiting the Greater Sarasota Chamber’s events calendar.

Click here for future events,

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