Sarasota County looks ahead to a widened Legacy Trail
A grant and private donations have paved the way for the first stretch of a divided path, one side for cyclists, the other for those running or walking.
No, roundabouts aren’t proposed for one of Sarasota County’s most popular cycling and jogging routes, but a commonly used highway expansion plan is on the drawing board for the Legacy Trail at the next meeting of the county commission.
Commissioners on Sept. 12 are scheduled to consider signing off on the pl;an to widen a two-mile stretch, courtesy of a state grant, private donations and some public funding, to allow separate lanes for cyclists and those on foot.
Phase 1 of the Legacy Trail Extension Bifurcated Trail Project would be paid for through $400,000 in state grants and the remainder in local matching funds from private donors and county impact fees, according to county documents.
“With trail use growing exponentially in the past few years, setting up the trail now for future improvements would be a vital next step to The Legacy Trail,’’ wrote Nicole Rissler, the county’s director of parks, recreation and natural resources in a memo to the County Commissioners.
The project is designed to add the extra lane from Beneva Road to South Shade Avenue with a four-foot grass median between cycling lanes and pedestrian/runner lanes. Maps, directional signs and educational signs are also part of the funding proposal, documents prepared in advance of the commission meeting show.
According to Friends of the Legacy Trail, 649,512 cyclists, joggers or walkers used a portion of the trail in 2022, up from 479,043 in 2021. Through July of 2023, 455,611 cyclists, walkers or joggers have been tallied.
Sarasota County extended the original run of the Legacy Trail from Culverhouse Park in Palmer Ranch to Fruitville Road in Sarasota following voter approval in 2018 for up to $65 million in bond financing. That stretch, which opened in 2022, was designed for the eventual addition of an extra pathway with a goal of improving safety and reducing user conflict between those on wheels and others.
Sheriff’s deputies have been seen recently on the trail in an effort to raise awareness of the rules of the road. Electric bicycles, capable of easily exceeding the trail’s 15 mph speed limit, are frequently mentioned as a problem area.
The extension from Palmer Ranch into Sarasota traverses a variety of neighborhoods, drawing more casual users to the trail, both on bicycles and on foot. Designers of the northern extension envisioned the bifurcated-trail possibility, paving the first portion off-center along the abandoned railway route.
According to county documents, Sarasota County has received more than $320,000 in donated money toward the local match, with the remainder coming from county impact fees. Friends of the Legacy Trail and the Sarasota-Manatee Bicycle Club were among the top donors.
The 2018 referendum also paved the way for additions to the south end of the trail, which had ended in Venice.
The North Port Connector opened in 2022, allowing riders to pedal from Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park in North Port all the way to Fruitville Road in Sarasota.
Further visions for the trail would connect the Legacy Trail to the city of Sarasota’s remade Bobby Jones Golf Club and adjacent nature park and on to the county’s 17th Street Park. Community meetings are planned in December to learn about the idea and provide feedback on potential routes.
The city of Sarasota recently announced a plan to build a link from the trail across Payne Park, with the goal of opening up access to downtown and adjacent residential neighborhoods west of U.S. 301.