Manasota Key Fl (Storch Report) — There was a line of cars today from the Southern tip to the Northern tip of Manasota Key traveling an average of 15 mph dodging walkers, bikers, Oak Trees and Sea Grapes all sharing a narrow pathway down this 12-mile stretch of a barrier reef here in Southwest Florida which is ill-equipped to handle the increase in the influx of Snow Birds this year.
While most cars enter an exit at too small of an intersection at the junction of SR 776, with four roads that narrow down to two upon entry, sizable enough for a compact car but barely large enough for an SUV and least of all a Semi that delivers food supplies to some five restaurants on the island, it is no wonder that the traffic is bumper to bumper in season. Traffic on this day waiting to get onto the key was backed up for miles coming from the East and West. Only a few weeks earlier an SUV flipped over when hitting a spit of a center isle here going between 5 and 10 MPH.
Less than a mile from this entry onto Beach Road, which is not yet on Manasota Key is a draw bridge that spans the Inter-coastal waterway at Lemon Bay. When this draw bridge is open, ‘for-get-about-it’ as they say in New Jersey.
Now if you make it to the entry of the Key in 45 minutes without the bridge being open, having traveled less than two miles, you are lucky. It is here the speed drops to 25 mph and then to 15 mph in order to negotiate a round-about in order to contend with the restaurants and beach crowd. Snow Birds don’t handle a round-about very well, unless they are Brits. It is here that the Englewood public beach is located with ample parking in the off season, but in season, once again, ‘for-get-about-it.’
With this kind of traffic, you can imagine what the response time might be in an emergency to get a fire truck, an EMS truck and a few police cars on the scene with no room for passing.
There are four public beaches on the Key. The one we just mentioned upon entry, another South of it called Stump Pass, with parking that is not ample in off season, a third at middle beach called Blind Pass, which has ample parking at all times and a fourth on the Northern tip of the Key called Manasota Key Beach, that can’t handle the parking needs in season.
Approximately half of the Key, the Southern part, is in Charlotte County, the Northern part is in Sarasota County. The Key even looks different from one county to the other. In Charlotte, there are walking and bike paths, one and the same, on each side of the road and a few commercial enterprises. In Sarasota the road narrows, you walk and ride a bike at great risk. The road is winding and not passable until you get off the Key. The locals that live here like to call it Canopy Road, even though its official name is Manasota Beach Road. They have even paid for and erected signs to this effect because Oak Trees on either side of the road meet in the middle to form the Canopy.
It is a challenge to ride these roads in a car because the walkers and bikers exercise their rights, despite risking their own lives. It is an accident waiting to happen and has.
But it is unlikely that anything will change. The reason for that can be summed up in one word, Politics. We don’t have any traffic lights on the Key, just a blinking amber light at a cross walk at Englewood Beach.
Change doesn’t come easily here. Before we had paved roads on the Key those living in the North section wanted to keep the dirt road they had, perhaps for the very reason I am pointing out the safety concerns an excess population brings to the Key. However, they have also resisted sewers to this day. You can see some of this stubbornness, by what they erect near the road fronting their property — boulders and in some instances pilings burrowed in the dirt. You wouldn’t want to hit these if forced off the narrow road.
The North section of the key has had its share of entertainment personalities living here full and part time, and still does. We even had a Vanderbilt or two on the island at one time. Don’t think about looking for their homes, they are behind gated fences and beyond that there are Oak Trees, Palm Trees, Sea Grapes, Mangroves and thick foliage.
Now part of the message that I’m trying to deliver in this column is a heads-up to the politicians from both counties that govern what goes on here for the safety of its residents and visitors; the other part of the message is to let the Snow Birds what they are in for if they visit us. I have no hope of discouraging them, because this is a piece of paradise that has been found, but is ill-equipped to handle the volume of visitors we are receiving this year and we can expect in the future.
However, as a full-time resident of this Key for more than 26 years, I must say that I didn’t enjoy going off island today for gas which usually takes 15 minutes round-trip from my house, and couldn’t get back on the Key without traveling throughout Englewood into Venice to enter the Key via the North draw bridge, traveling through Sarasota county in bumper to bumper traffic to get to the county line in Charlotte. Time: an hour-and-a-half.
My personal experience today is but an inconvenience, however; the safety concerns with the roads, the inappropriate intersection upon entry, the access time for emergency vehicles getting on and off the key and the inadequate parking at the beaches are issues that need to be addressed by the two county governments.