Leaders Seek Regional Transit Solutions

Traffic

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY MONDAY BUSINESS EDITION MONDAY MAY 13, 2019

As the number of options for moving around grow, business and government leaders say the approach to transportation must evolve as well.

And it’s one regional leaders have to work on together to solve the large and small challenges that come wth ride-sharing, autonomous vehicles and shifts in demand for public transportation.

“If you look at the future and the whole idea that at some point we’ll be in driverless cars, you have to ask if spending money on widening roads is the best long-term solution,” says Heather Kasten, president and CEO of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a complicated issue.”

Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh says leaders must work together on regional solutions. She serves on both the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization, which addresses local transportation priorities, and the Florida Metropolitan Planning Organization Advisory Council. She says leaders must find ways to address congestion and create more corridors that move individuals who live in the region or just pass by.

“One of the main things we have to work on, and the Florida Department of Transportation does too, is how do we move transportation among people who drive in Sarasota-Manatee but are just going through our counties?” Baugh says.

It’s important that leaders find a way to make sure those fly-through drivers don’t create congestion for individuals commuting to work or driving between locations within the region. In Manatee, government is extending 44th Avenue to create a better east-west alternative to State Road 70 and State Road 64.

Kasten says the area should also look to transportive alternatives in densely population areas like the county downtowns. Services like Uber and Lyft are dramatically changing how people choose to move around. She also notes cities like Nashville have successfully incorporated personal scooter models people can use to go short distances on a publicly accessible scooter, then leave the the small vehicle at their destinations. 

“It’s an incredible way to move people that’s similar to the bike model,” she says.

Officials say there need to be solutions at the big-picture level but also on the small scale, particularly as the region sees some areas become more densely populated. And there’s a number of transportation conversations going on, from MPO projects to a City of Sarasota mobility survey to an FDOT summit coming up in Sarasota this month to discuss commuter traffic.

Kasten says the Chamber still would like to see operations at Sarasota County Area Transit to be examined to see if the best routes are in place to help commuters get to and from work. Baugh says the topic of SCAT and Manatee County Area Transit working more closely comes up often. 

“We have buses from both counties that work together to make sure to get people where they need to go,” Baugh says.

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