Two weeks ago, the SCOPE staff had the pleasure of participating in an event hosted by Dr. Lisa Merritt, a highly regarded community leader, physiatrist, and founder of the Multicultural Health Institute. The event, which was held at the North Sarasota Library, was focused on highlighting health disparities in our community. It was held in celebration of the life of Eleanor Ball, a community leader who has worked tirelessly as a health advocate. To me, the most profound part of the event was when we broke up into groups and started talking to each other about the state of health in our community. In groups of eight to ten people, each one with a facilitator and a scribe, we all answered and discussed each of the following questions:
- What is your vision of a healthy family?
- What is your vision of a healthy community?
- How do things differ from the current situation?
- What could be done about this situation?
- Why should something be done about this situation?
These questions were met with answers regarding not only access to healthcare and nutritious foods, but parenting, family time, safety, relationships, and developing job skills. One conversation that seemed to spark a lot of enthusiasm in my group was concerning the walkability and bikability of Sarasota County. Group members all agreed that our built environment has a huge effect on our health. We want to be able to walk to work, go on a bike ride, and easily get around without having to drive. We want lots of parks to go to and trails to walk through. We all agreed that although Sarasota has made some improvements, such as the renovation of Old Bradenton Road., there was still a lot to be done, especially regarding bicycle and pedestrian safety.
Walkability and Bikeability in Sarasota County
Currently, Sarasota County has more than 230 miles of inventoried bicycle facilities and more than 1,300 miles of inventoried pedestrian facilities. Pedestrian facilities are localized in the county’s most urbanized areas, including downtown Sarasota and Venice. North Port, the city with the highest population in Sarasota County, has the lowest amount of bicycle and pedestrian facilities available to residents . Last year, Sarasota County published a Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan aimed towards identifying and implementing goals regarding bikeability, walkability, and livability in Sarasota. The plan is partially based on the results of a Community Assessment Survey distributed in 2011 through webpages, libraries, and other county facility. The survey’s goal was to assess the priorities of our community regarding bicycle and pedestrian facilities.
According to the Community Assessment Survey, which had 900 respondents, the top priorities to consider for future bicycle and pedestrian path connections are “pedestrian/ bicycle safety” and “filling gaps of missing sidewalks and paths”.
If we look at bicycle crash data for Sarasota County, this priority comes as no surprise. Figure 2 illustrates the percent of the total population of each county in Florida that has been involved in a bicycle crash. Sarasota County ranks third (0.048%), behind Monroe (0.17%) and Pinellas (0.062) counties .
Between 2007 and 2013, there were 1,756 bicycle crashes in Sarasota County. The majority of these crashes have happened along roadways. Figure 3 compares the percentages of crashes that occurred on roadways vs. intersections (roadways are represented by the blue area). Figure 4 shows that most of the bike crashes on roadways have occurred on Tamiami Trail., the majority of which does not have a bike path.
That data above demonstrates that Sarasota County is not the safest or most convenient place to rely on a bicycle, but how about relying on walking? Real estate agents and homebuyers have been using a figure called a “walk score” to rate how walkable a city or neighborhood is. Walk Score analyzes hundreds of walking routes to nearby amenities. Points are awarded based on the distance to amenities in each category. A score of 0-24 means that almost all errands require a car, 25-49 means that most errands require a car, 50-69 means that some errands can be accomplished on foot, 70-89 means that most errands can be accomplished on foot, and 90-100 means that daily errands to not require a car. Sarasota city has a walk score of 49, meaning that it is car dependent, but edging on being somewhat walkable. Venice has a walk score of 29, and North Port has a walk score of 6.
Why Is This Important?
Walkability and bikeability make a community more healthy, economical, and sustainable. Having amenities in closer proximity to residences helps eliminate food deserts, and allows people to have access to nutritious foods. Beyond that however, bikeability and walkability seem to be a top priority for the younger generation when they are deciding where to live. Keeping young people in the county is a major concern in the community right now.
In 2014, the Rockefeller Foundation and Transportation for America released the results of a survey of Millennials in 10 major U.S. Cities. According to the survey, 54% of Millennials say that they would consider moving to another city if they had better options for getting around. Furthermore, 77% of Millennials in aspiring cities say that it is important for their city to offer opportunities to live and work without relying on a car .
If you are interested in learning more about the walkability of Sarasota, visit www.walkscore.com, check out Sarasota County’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, and read through previous SCOPE blogs on walkability in Sarasota County.