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Traffic jams on Anna Maria Island street call for something new. Is a one-way the answer?

Bradenton Beach has a traffic problem and city officials want to, at least, alleviate congestion at its most popular destination point outside of the sandy white beaches: Bridge Street.

But what is the solution?

Officials want to know from you and the city will hold a public meeting on Feb. 6 to hear your ideas.

“All options are on the table,” said Mayor John Chappie.

Those options include the possibility of making Bridge Street a one-way street running east toward the Anna Maria Oyster Bar on the Bridge Street Pier, filtering traffic to the north and south at the eastern roundabout.

Nearby residents aren’t too happy with the prospect of more traffic being forced their way, but Chappie said that’s why it’s important the public have its say.

The secret of Anna Maria Island has long been out and traffic is the No. 1 complaint from visitors, with one Tripadvisor.com reviewer summing it up best with, “Traffic is awful.”

And even those rare one-star ratings specific to traffic experiences on the island, typically end with, “It was all worthwhile. Definitely coming back.”

And so the cycle continues for an island a little over 7 miles long with thousands of vehicles packed onto narrow streets searching for that ever elusive parking space near your favorite restaurant, boutique or surf shop.

Good luck finding it.

“Obviously during peak periods when there are a lot of folks coming to visit Bridge Street, parking is extremely tough,” said Walter Loos, co-owner of Bridge Street’s Book A Little Sunshine and a member of Manatee County’s traffic advisory committee.

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Bridge Street is a popular destination on Anna Maria Island. Too popular, as officials look to resolve traffic woes, including the possibility of making Bridge Street a one-way road. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

“There is a lot demand on a limited number of spots,” Loos said. “To visit the street can be frustrating so therefore I have heard from folks who have gone elsewhere just because they can’t visit the street. I do believe the situation causes a loss to business and business opportunities.”

Getting onto the island itself can require patience, but navigating it is another matter, so as is often the case when addressing traffic issues within a limited space, it’s time to get creative. The city is hopeful a redesign of Bridge Street can alleviate traffic while potentially addressing a lack of parking.

“Nothing has been designed yet,” Chappie said. “We can’t go forward with a design until we have this public input and everybody has a say. It could be a one-way or it could be a two-way, but no decisions will be made until after we hear from the public.”

A “no way” isn’t outside the possibility as many cities block vehicle access altogether from their popular downtown destinations, opting to turn a street into a pedestrian mall. Bradenton officials considered that during the initial planning for its upcoming streetscaping project along Old Main Street, but ultimately rejected the idea.

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Bridge Street is a popular destination on Anna Maria Island. Too popular, as officials look to resolve traffic woes, including the possibility of making Bridge Street a one-way road. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

With hotels on Bridge Street, the no-way option would likely get some push back with visitors needing to unload their belongings on site, but Loos said if nearby off-street parking opportunities were created with some kind of shuttle service, “I’d like to hear more of that conversation on that side of things.”

Limiting the number of cars on Bridge Street and the island as a whole is where the real focus should be for solutions, he said.

“There needs to be more emphasis on alternative transportation solutions and that should be a part of our continued dialogue.,” Loos said. “How do we encourage people who are visiting that they don’t need a car? Can you pick them up and bring them here and encourage the use of the free trolley to get you anywhere on the island you want to go?”

The suggestions some are throwing out there as possible ideas like redirecting traffic won’t help, Loos said.

“I don’t see a real benefit to that,” he said. “What we are talking about is the number of cars so it doesn’t matter which way you route it. After the Daiquiri Deck is built, we’ll maybe have 40 or 50 parking spaces on the street so what’s the benefit of rerouting traffic?”

Breaking News/Real Time Reporter Mark Young began his career in 1996 and has been with the Bradenton Herald since 2014. He has won more than a dozen awards over the years, including the coveted Lucy Morgan Award for In-Depth Reporting from the Florida Press Club and for beat reporting from the Society for Professional Journalists to name a few. His reporting experience is as diverse as the communities he covers.
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