A Sarasota Trail proposal connects with a bigger mobility picture
The city envisions linking Legacy Trail to neighborhoods west of U.S. 301 via a pathway across the southern edge of Payne Park.
When the pavement is laid, the landscaping finished and the ceremonial ribbons cut, the city of Sarasota will be the proud owner of about a quarter-mile of new multi-use trail, connecting a spur of the Legacy Trail from School Avenue to the southwest corner of Payne Park.
But the project, financed with a mix of federal and local dollars, figures to represent more to the city in the long run than a typical medium-sized, public-works project.
When finished in late 2024, the 14-foot-wide Legacy Trail Payne Park MURT (that’s city speak for multi-use recreational trail) will be another component of a larger vision to provide mobility options that don’t necessarily involve a drivers’ license.
And those ideas don’t necessarily end at the city limits, either, said Corrine Arriaga, a transportation planner with the city and the trail’s project manager, acknowledging there are proposals to link city points to county projects north and east.
Sarasota in Motion, a transportation overview approved in 2020, helps guide city leaders on a broad range of transit solutions for pedestrians, drivers, cyclists, and riders.
The $775,000 trail through Payne Park is such an opportunity.
“How do we accommodate vehicles, but while also accommodating people walking and biking as well, and maybe taking transit and using scooters,” Arriaga said. “And, you know, whatever else the future holds, maybe some autonomous shuttles in the future. Things are rapidly progressing in the technology field as well.’’
The proposed trail is drawn across the southern fringes of Payne Park to connect School Avenue to East Avenue and South Payne Parkway. A triangular junction at the three-point connection could be adorned with decorative landscaping or even public art while connecting to a neighborhood access point to the south, Arriaga said.
Driven by a goal of providing safer connections for cyclists, Arriaga said the city is working with Florida Department of Transportation to one day upgrade the pedestrian crossing into neighborhoods west of four-lane U.S. 301 opposite South Payne Parkway.
Arriaga called the highway “a barrier.’’
Cyclist Kayla Pedersen agrees.
“I’m very nervous about riding in the street,’’ said Pedersen, who rolled to a stop on a single-speed beach cruiser with a friend at School Drive one recent muggy morning. “If I can find a way to get somewhere on a trail or sidewalk, I don’t always trust the cars.’’
Pedersen, who lives west of U.S. 301 in a downtown-adjacent neighborhood, said she appreciated the city’s efforts in building bike lanes along busy Ringling Boulevard and said she was happy to hear about the Payne Park project.
But, she added, a careful approach to intersections and driveways remains wise.
“It’s like they don’t know we’re there,’’ she said of car drivers.
Ringling Trail from east of downtown to the bayfront opened in 2022 and won acclaim from the Florida chapter of the American Public Words Association for the work that converted the four-lane thoroughfare into two lanes for vehicles alongside protected cycling lanes and parallel parking.
Paid for with $2.7 million from several sources — the city’s share of Sarasota County’s penny surtax on retail sales; economic development funds; impact fees and federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan — the street is like no other in the city, with planters, spacing between travel lanes and room for two- and four-wheeled machines.
“Letting drivers know that the road is not just for them, it's also for people on bikes,’’ Arriaga said. “And just creating really safe and welcoming spaces for people to get out and get on their bikes, commute if they want to, creating those connections. So that way, if they do commute, they're not left with one little piece that's unsafe, because nothing's been developed there.’’
Not far away from Payne Park and downtown, plans are pushing forward to someday link Legacy Trail to the county’s 17th Street Park and the city’s Bobby Jones Golf Course, which is expected to open for play in the fall. A nature park is planned there in the future.
Farther east, plans call for connections into Lakewood Ranch along a proposed flyover of Interstate 75 near Nathan Benderson Park. The city has also for years discussed several ways of extending Legacy Trail north of Fruitville Road into neighborhoods east of U.S. 301.
Back in Payne Park, plans call for modifications to water and stormwater systems, a shelter, lighting and more. To accommodate the trail, the fifth hole of the park’s disc golf course will have to be moved, Arriaga said, adding the move will be made in consultation with that sport’s enthusiasts.
Since COVID-19, Arriaga said, transportation experts have seen a shift in mobility trends “especially in areas where they can walk or bike to work,’’ she said.
Florida’s weather and geography don’t always work for that kind of thing, “but sometimes we have to create those other transportation options. So creating a transit system that works for people who want to not ride their bike, not drive their car by themselves, or create, you know, opportunities for people to use vanpools or to find people that they can carpool with . . . just creating those alternatives by saying, this isn't the only option.’’
Crashes involving cyclists, reported to law enforcement, have edged upward since 2020 in Manatee and Sarasota counties, averaging about 132 and 187 respectively, state data shows. Fatalities have remained in the single digits.
Arriaga said Sarasota’s 1,170 foot project has the potential to more safely open up non-street routes to and from Sarasota High, neighborhoods and commerce sites. A public meeting is planned for the fall for community members to learn more about the trail.
That’s all part of the bigger vision, too, Arriaga said.
“It’s really identifying what the community feels as a whole versus single individuals, while also educating about all these treatments in the process, ‘’ she said. “We really do, we really, really try to educate while we're doing community outreach, but a lot of it is listening. I think that really listening to the community and hearing what their concerns are helps achieve an outcome that everybody's really excited about. And I think that's important.’’
Eric Garwood is the executive editor of the Community News Collaborative. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.