Holmes Beach resident Nancy Deal urged the Manatee County Tourist Development Council on Monday to address traffic safety on the island 's narrow, winding roads, where unaware beachgoers too often wander onto streets, sometimes with deadly consequences.
In January, an 80-year-old pedestrian was killed and her 78-year-old husband seriously injured when they attempted to cross Gulf Drive on an S-curve near Guava Street. The couple were not in a cross walk. The driver was not charged.
Deal urged creation of a safety task force made up of members of the tourism industry.
The tourist industry needs to make a more aggressive effort to educate visitors, Deal said.
Ed Chiles, a member of the TDC, agreed that the island needs safe bike and pedestrian ways.
"We have to look at solutions," Chiles said, but noted that even in the heaviest part of the tourist season, residents know to adjust their schedules and to avoid congested areas.
Carol Whitmore, chair of the TDC, said that the panel needs to talk to local charter governments about the issue.
"We can't tell our cities what to do," she said.
Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston, another member of the TDC, said the problem of too many pedestrians being hit by cars is not just an island problem.
"It's all over. We have the same problem in Bradenton. And the county has the same problem. That comes from more people living here," Poston said.
Yet, Anna Maria Island is unique in that it has a large number of people outside enjoying beach amenities, day and night, in close proximity to heavy traffic.
"It seems at some point that we have more people out here than infrastructure," Whitmore said. "It's a happy place and I want to maintain that. Is there a way we can come up with a strategy so that we don't lose that? I don't want to lose the character of the island. Traffic got a little rough this year."
Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer, contacted after the meeting, said his city has stepped up its efforts to educate drivers and pedestrians of traffic dangers.
"We know we have a lot of people in a vacation mindset," Tokajer said.
Since the January fatal accident, the city has erected 14 solar-powered flashing signs at each S-curve, warning drivers to slow down and watch for pedestrians, Tokajer said.
In other business Monday:
- The number of visitors to Manatee County grew 4 percent in calendar year 2017, while the economic impact grew by 6.6. percent, Walter Klages of Data Research Services reported. In 2017, Manatee County recorded 721,400 visitors, who had 1,673,900 room nights and spent $593,014,600.
- The number of tourist beds in Manatee County continues to grow. In 2017, there were an estimated 7,800 beds, and that is expected to increase to 8,300 in 2018, said Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
- Beverly Lesnick, chair of the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce, asked the TDC for consideration in increasing its contribution for marketing. The annual contribution has remained the same since 2002.