MCAT: Island-mainland shuttle study underway

Bradenton Beach Scenic Waves Partnership Committee members, who met Oct. 7 for the first time since May, took advantage of having representatives present from the Florida Department of Transportation and Manatee County Transit Authority to discuss an islandwide concern: traffic congestion.

But discussion was all Scenic Waves members could do. The committee picked up where it left off before the summer hiatus — without a quorum.

Scenic Waves chair Carl Parks opened the meeting by saying the committee is well versed on traffic issues after having participated in many studies over its 12-year history.

There are many traffic proposals being discussed throughout the island and one often-discussed proposal is the creation of a park-and-ride system. The system would allow beachgoers to leave their vehicles at a parking lot off island where they would board free buses to local beaches.

MCAT planner Sarah Perch confirmed that the county is studying the feasibility of that idea.

“We are looking at facilities throughout the county and the idea is going before the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization board this month,” said Perch. “Hopefully from that study, we can get some ideas about where to have facilities for a park-and-ride system.”

Perch said the county already offers free weekend shuttle services from Manatee Avenue to the island and touted the success of the free trolleys that service the island.

“The AMI route is the most frequent route we have, which runs every 20 minutes,” said Perch. “The island trolley is the most productive route and carries the highest number of passengers.”

Perch said discussions also continue with Sarasota County to create an interlocal agreement between the two transit authorities that would expand bus services.

Jim Van Pelt, MPO liaison to Scenic Waves, said there are a number of studies being funded through the MPO, including the park-and-ride study.

“We are looking at a number of places for parking facilities for that and looking at connecting transit to take them to different parts of the county,” said Van Pelt. “That one should be done by December. We also are doing a big study of routes from Lakewood Ranch to Bradenton and maybe see how we can direct those to the island.”

Bradenton Beach Commissioner Ric Gatehouse, attending the meeting, brought up a concern that people would not want to use a park-and-ride system if they can’t bring beach gear.

Perch said that there is not a lot of flexibility with adding storage on buses, but Van Pelt said Fort Myers has a heavily used park-and-ride system.

“Beach gear is not a deterrent,” he said. “They bring it right onto the bus.”

Others suggested that people won’t use the bus service without an incentive.

Jan Parham, FDOT transit projects coordinator for Sarasota County, said the committee could work with businesses to offer coupons to passengers.

Former Commissioner Janie Robertson, a commission candidate in the Nov. 5 city election, asked if FDOT could create an express lane for buses to the island.

“This area is constrained and there is no way to put in another lane,” she said.

Robertson said she was specifically referring to Cortez Road between 115th and 119th streets, where the right-hand turn lane ends and the westbound traffic over the bridge narrows to one lane.

Others attending agreed that it was a safety issue due to people using the turn lane and then cutting off traffic to get onto the bridge during the season.

Keep Manatee Beautiful executive director Ingrid McClellan, a Scenic Waves member, suggested FDOT remove the medians in that area to make an express lane for a proposed park-and-ride system.

“Those medians are too thin to plant anything that will grow,” she said. “I don’t see why you can’t remove them and make it a center lane for buses.”

Parham said she would extend an invitation for someone from the traffic division to attend the Nov. 4 Scenic Waves meeting to discuss options.

In other matters, McClellan said everything is almost ready for the Oct. 30-Nov. 2 Bradenton Beach Sandblast at Coquina Beach, this year in conjunction with the Pirate Invasion.

Scenic Waves member Jake Spooner, also a Bridge Street Merchants member, said the merchants have several events planned to raise money for the Christmas on Bridge Street event Dec. 21.

An official Christmas lighting ceremony also is planned Nov. 30.

Under new business, Parks requested that the commission assign more projects for review by Scenic Waves.

Commissioner Gay Breuler, liaison to Scenic Waves, said Parks had it backward.

“If you have a project identified, then you present it to us,” she said. “Scenic Waves is an advisory board to the commission and mayor, not the other way around.”

Parks said prior commissions sought Scenic Waves recommendations on certain projects before making a decision, much like it does with the planning and zoning board.

“That’s going backward,” said Breuler. “If something comes to the commission for a vote, then it’s probably already had that attention. What Scenic Waves is designed for is for you to come up with projects that you think are useful and present them to commission.”

Breuler said if Scenic Waves was going to wait on the commission or mayor to present projects to them, “You’ll be waiting for awhile.”

Scenic Waves meets the first Monday of the month at 3 p.m., at city hall, 107 Gulf Drive N.

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