SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) — Driving south along U.S 41, you’ll come across four roundabouts as you approach the Downtown Sarasota area, all within a one-mile stretch.
The roundabouts are relatively new, all constructed within the last three years, with the latest and largest one opening just three months ago at Gulfstream Ave.
The city started incorporating traffic circles in different locations several years ago with the goal of improving both pedestrian and driver safety. Recently, however, there have been concerns surrounding the number of crashes taking place in the traffic circles.
In a memo sent Friday, March 17, Mayor Kyle Battie wrote, “last weekend, unfortunately, there were three crashes with injuries at the US 41 and 10th and 14th Street roundabouts, which have been open and in use for three years. According to Sarasota Police, each crash involved speeding, failure to navigate and/or intoxication.”
8 On Your Side obtained crash records at the roundabouts in the last six months. There were a total of 62, however, 16 of those crashes took place at the Gulfstream roundabout since it opened in December. In all, eight of the crashes at the four roundabouts involved injuries.
We compared that to numbers in the same six-month time frame before the roundabouts were constructed and found there were 28 total crashes in a six-month time frame, with 10 involving injuries.
Some residents we spoke with found the numbers somewhat surprising.
“I think it is an overwhelming number when you consider that it is just part of the normal highway. I knew that there had been a number of accidents, but not like that, that is pretty significant,” said Ellen O’Sullivan.
City residents who live near the Gulfstream roundabout feel the design is confusing for drivers.
“Generally, I think roundabouts are a good idea. However, this particular roundabout is very dynamic. It has some places with more than two lanes and there are a lot of decision points and that is part of the issue. There are too many decision points in too close proximity for drivers,” said Jim Lampl.
“We need to simplify the roundabouts, we need to study them, we need to reduce the conflict points, we need to take temporary measures now because, as you know, people are getting hurt now,” said Linda Haller Sloan.
City leaders hope to change the statistics through more outreach and education.
“This year, we have seen an increase of 20% of tourists and visitors coming to the area. It is more about educating the visitors and the tourists because it appears that residents do know how to navigate the roundabouts. It is just getting to the residents and visitors that do come to the area and ensuring that they slow down, pay attention, yield to vehicles and pedestrians, and pay attention as they are navigating through the roundabouts,” said City Engineer Nikesh Patel.
The city is doing outreach on social media while also working with community partners such as local hotels and the visitor’s bureau to reach their intended audience.
“The vehicle that is already in the roundabout has the right of way. if you are entering the roundabout and a vehicle is in the roundabout you must treat the yield sign as if it’s a stop sign until that vehicle clears so you can enter safely. Also, if there are multiple lanes within the roundabout, drivers should not try to merge into different lanes without using their side mirrors and doing so safely,” said the police department’s Traffic Unit Sergeant.