Sarasota and Manatee Counties Are Rolling Out Roundabouts in Greater Numbers

Sarasota, Manatee, developers and FDOT say circles make sense, in some locations, to boost safety.

By Catherine Hicks/Community News Collaborative December 20, 2023

A view of the Gulfstream Avenue roundabout project in downtown Sarasota.

A view of the Gulfstream Avenue roundabout project in downtown Sarasota.

Like them or not, roundabouts and traffic circles have been built in increasing numbers on Sarasota and Manatee county roads in the last five years.

The changes have brought mixed feelings from commuters, with many saying inexperienced and uneducated drivers are unsure of how to properly go with the traffic flow.

“I avoid them if possible,” Justin Stuppy wrote on a Facebook post seeking reactions on the subject. “They work great in theory, but people don’t know how to use them. Half the time, no one yields to traffic in the roundabout and thinks they can just enter without even looking. I see several people swerving across lanes inside the roundabout because they weren’t paying attention when they entered and entered the wrong lane.”

But other commuters still see the value of roundabouts, despite difficulties with other drivers.

“They definitely move the traffic more quickly,” wrote Valerie Colmery Rawlings, “but you have to be paying attention to those unfamiliar with using them.”

“When you know how to use them, they’re far better than a light,” added Bruce Heidke, “Traffic moves much smoother. They’re not so good for the timid, [though].”

In the last five years, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has completed eight roundabouts in Sarasota and Manatee counties, with seven more scheduled for construction in upcoming years—not counting versions built on county or developer-constructed roads.

Manatee County has added 13 roundabouts in the last five years, with eight more planned by the county and 10 more by local developers within the next five years.

On the state highway system alone, this investment has reached roughly $75 million, funded through state funds and other taxes. Manatee County has spent $13.62 million for roundabouts, which is roughly 40 percent of the $35 million budget for County Traffic Signals and Roundabouts.

Proposals are not always successful, though. Opposition to a roundabout on Lorraine Road and Players Drive in Lakewood Ranch prompted Manatee County commissioners to reject that project.

“A traffic circle, no matter how well it is proposed to be constructed or how much it’s going to cost, there are going to be a lot of accidents,” Glenn Stringer told commissioners at the Manatee County commission meeting in mid-November.

Crashes, transportation officials, concede can still happen in a roundabout. But they tend to be less severe.

They offer “great safety and operational improvements,” says Alex Adames, the Florida Department of Transportation’s Construction Engineer.

“The main thing about roundabouts is the safety improvements that they bring to an intersection,” Adames says. “There’s a lot of research that has been done around the safety of roundabouts. We see about a 90 percent reduction in fatalities, about a 75 percent reduction in injuries with severe injuries, and 10 percent to 40 percent fewer pedestrian and bicycle crashes.”

A roundabout at Whitfield and Tuttle avenues that is currently under construction in Manatee County.

A roundabout at Whitfield and Tuttle avenues that is currently under construction in Manatee County.

A key component of the reduction of crashes is the requirement to reduce speed when entering and lower chances of broadside or head on collisions. Instead, roundabout collisions are typically side swipes, which are less damaging to the vehicle and less likely to produce severe injuries.

This is one of the key components that goes into deciding where to place roundabouts, according to Adames and Manatee County’s deputy director of Public Works Clarke Davis.

“One of the main driving factors behind constructing roundabouts is the safety,” Davis says. “In an area where there are known crash histories, especially dangerous types of crashes that can be mitigated by a roundabout, a roundabout would be looked at as an option prior to implementing a signal.”

Another key component, according to Adames, is the lack of ongoing maintenance for roundabouts. Though the initial investment may be higher, there is no maintenance or utility expense associated with operating a roundabout as there is with traffic signals that break down and require routine operational maintenance.

In order to address the public concerns of drivers being unsure of how to use roundabouts, both the FDOT and Manatee County have created print and digital materials to distribute at events and provide online. FDOT also has an online resource that provides videos and other information to assist with educating drivers on how to navigate a roundabout.

“We are building projects to educate the communities,” Adames said.  “We have education videos on our website. We go directly to the communities and talk to them when we’re building a project. We hand them brochures and answer their questions.”

Manatee County focuses on “trying assimilate people to roundabouts at a much younger age,” says Ogden Clark, public information officer for Manatee County, referencing education at local schools during Bicycle Safety Week on how a roundabout is intended to work, as well as possibly hosting educational events at county events for holidays in the future.

Here are the roundabouts that are scheduled for construction in the area.

Manatee County Scheduled Roundabout Construction:

  • Creekwood Boulevard at 73rd Street East;
  • Fort Hamer Road at North River Ranch Trail (developer-built, under construction)
  • Two potentials on 75th Street West at 46th Avenue West and 51st Avenue West (developer-built)
  • Honore Avenue at Old Farm Road
  • Lena Road at 44th Avenue East and at Brower Drive
  • Moccasin Wallow Road at U.S. 301 (under construction)
  • Whitfield Avenue at Tuttle Avenue (under construction).

Planned roundabout construction on state highways in Sarasota or Manatee:

  • U.S. 41 at Main Street and Ringling Boulevard in Sarasota
  • State Road 70 east of Lorraine Road at: Uihlein Road, Del Webb Boulevard and Bourneside Road in Lakewood Ranch
  • State Road 64 at Lorraine Road
  • U.S. 41 at 23rd Street in Palmetto
  • Two at Wellen Park (in permitting process)

Catherine Hicks is a reporter for the Community News Collaborative. She can be reached at [email protected]

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