Going nowhere fast?
Some island residents and Holmes Beach commissioners are questioning the need for the recent posting of reduced speed limits on Manatee Avenue/State Road 64 in the city.
“I actually think it’s causing it to be more dangerous in the first place,” said Anna Maria Island resident Sam Major. “It’s causing it to be bumper-to-bumper traffic all day, every day, no matter what. And that causes more accidents than a good, steady flow of traffic.”
Some officials were notified of the pending traffic regulation changes on portions of State Road 64/Manatee Avenue in a Jan. 24 letter from the Florida Department of Transportation’s Tanya King to Manatee County Commission Chair Betsy Benac. The letter was copied to Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer but was not received by Tokajer until Feb. 1, after the Jan. 30 posting of the new reduced speed signs.
The DOT completed an engineering analysis that supported reducing speed limits on State Road 64/Manatee Avenue in response to a request from the city. The letter cited reasons for lowering the speed, including the “high pedestrian volume in the area,” along with the roadway and traffic characteristics of the segment.
“Although our studies did not indicate a need to reduce the speeds, the context of the area along with the reports of safety problems from the chief contributed to our reducing the speed limit,” DOT’s David Gwinn wrote in a Feb. 6 email to Mayor Bob Johnson.
“In years past, we would have been more likely to leave the speed limit near the existing speeds. However, we are becoming more sensitive to the context of each area and reducing speeds if it makes sense given the environment of the area.”
For motorists heading west into Holmes Beach by way of Manatee Avenue/State Road 64, starting at the Anna Maria Island Bridge, the speed limit is 25 mph, reduced from 35 mph.
The speed limit on the Anna Maria Island Bridge, connecting Holmes Beach to Perico Island, is 35 mph, reduced from 45 mph.
Florida statutes allow municipalities to set the speed limit on residential roads to a maximum of 20-25 mph after an investigation determines it’s reasonable.
One factor that contributed to the speed change was a 2015 bicycle fatality on the east side of the bridge. The estimated speed of the driver was 63 mph in a posted 45-mph zone.
Not everyone thinks the lower speed limit is a problem.Win Bishop thanked Tokajer “for making paradise a little safer.”
“As a local resident who lives and works in Holmes Beach and uses my low-speed vehicle as my primary form of transportation, I feel much safer,” Bishop wrote in a Feb. 7 email to Tokajer.
Resident Mark Howard, who has lived on the island for more than 20 years and runs fishing charters out of Keyes Marina in Holmes Beach, also likes the lower speed limit.
“Get over it,” he said. “Move on. We either are going to be a low-speed vehicle, bicycle-friendly island or not. Thirty-five is not friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists, and 25 is.”
The biggest problem with the lower speed limit, Howard said, was the lack of public notice.
“When you throw surprises at people, it just throws people for a loop,” he said. “I think the police chief should have got the message out in a better manner. I did not like the idea of him just springing it on us.”
Tokajer issued a Feb. 6 news release apologizing “for not making the public aware of the change prior to posting the revised speed limits,” adding the city has “dodged the bullet so far.”
But the Jan. 30 posting of new speed limits also came as a surprise to Tokajer and his patrol officers.
Still, some commissioners are angry with the speed change “surprise.”
Commissioner Jean Peelen, in a Feb. 3 email to Tokajer, said the change was “sprung on the residents.”
“There was no public notice, no input. The first residents know was when Holmes Beach police were on the side of the road with a radar gun,” Peelen wrote.
Residents like Jordan Sebastiano said the lower speed is “too slow.”
“My initial reaction was ‘speed trap,’” he said, adding the limit of 35 mph should be reinstated.
Commission Chair Judy Titsworth wrote in a Feb. 7 email to Johnson that the speed change should have gone before the commission, adding the topic will be up for discussion at the Feb. 14 city meeting, after The Islander went to press.
“In the event that the majority of the commission votes to request that the speed limits go back to the way they were, it would be nice if that could be done rather quickly and without the city of Holmes Beach becoming a circus act,” Titsworth wrote.
However, Titsworth also reached out to the DOT in an email, asking whether the agency would change the speed limit back to 35 mph in the city and 45 mph on the bridge if the commission reaches a consensus to return to the prior limits.
The commission will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 14, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.