FDOT hoping to help Zio's

BRADENTON — John Leggero installed planters in front of his Zio’s Old World Italian Restaurant and Martini Bar because he thought it “freshened the place up.”

They did more than that earlier this month: They stopped a sport-utility vehicle from slamming into the downtown Bradenton eatery at the northeast corner of Sixth Avenue West and 14th Street West.

The Jan. 9 mishap — the SUV brushed the building before coming to rest against a nearby streetlight pole — was the third time since late 2005 that a vehicle has hit Zio’s. Each time, the restaurant was closed and no customers or employees were injured.

Leggero, who bought Zio’s in September, feels fortunate but worries his good luck won’t last much longer.

“I’m concerned because it’s in the last four years, and the safety of our customers is very important.”

He finally might get some help from the Florida Department of Transportation.

FDOT said it plans to soon meet with city officials to discuss possible ways to reduce the chances of another wayward vehicle turning the sit-down eatery into an impromptu drive-in.

“We’re committed to making some kind of enhancement in this area, but we haven’t decided what it will be yet,” said Lauren Hatchell, an FDOT spokeswoman.

Among the possibilities:

n Installing bollards, or concrete poles, in front of the business.

n Adjusting the timing of the intersection’s traffic signal.

n Putting up more signage warning drivers about the signal ahead.

The Sixth Avenue/14th Street intersection has been problematic because it’s immediately after a sharp curve on Sixth Avenue, a one-way street. Although a small sign warns of a traffic signal ahead, Sixth Avenue drivers don’t see the signal until they’re about 100 feet away because a tall building and its landscaping block their view.

That sometimes has resulted in drivers running a red light at the intersection, striking another car and pushing it toward Zio’s. Police said that is what happened in the first two vehicle-versus-building collisions.

Bradenton City Councilwoman Marianne Barnebey remembers the first one, which happened on Christmas Day 2005.

“We came upon it right after it happened,” she said. “It was right inside the building. The car was almost up to the bar. That is when I started asking the Department of Transportation if there was something we could do.”

But nothing changed and it happened again, this time in April 2008, she said. Still, no changes were made afterward.

“In Florida, we have a history of waiting until someone is dead before we do something, and that’s sad,” Barnebey said.

After the latest mishap, she again wrote FDOT officials urging them to look into the situation, This time, FDOT officials agreed.

Barnebey said she hopes the meeting, which has not yet been scheduled, results in safety improvements that prevent a Zio’s customer or employee from getting seriously injured or worse.

“Fortunately, these accidents have happened when the place was closed,” she said. “What if someone happened to be sitting inside? A 3,000-pound car plowing into someone, I know how that story ends.”

Duane Marsteller, transportation/growth and development reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.