Public weighs in on proposed makeovers to two downtowns

BRADENTON — Raphael Allen is proud of his community’s past, but fears for its future if a study’s proposed changes for Ninth Avenue/Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue are implemented.

The proposal calls for widening parts of Ninth/MLK to handle traffic diverted off Manatee and Sixth avenues west. Doing that would be a major disruption on what has been the Bradenton black community’s Main Street for generations, Allen said Wednesday.

“We do not want more traffic coming down Martin Luther King,” he said. “We have enough already.”

Allen was among more than 25 people who reviewed that and other potential changes a study is recommending to make it easier for pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles to get around in Bradenton’s and Palmetto’s downtown areas. The study suggests undertaking a $63 million mix of near-term and long-term projects, including installing roundabouts, narrowing streets, adding on-street parking and expanding bus service.

One potentially controversial proposal — putting a roundabout at Manatee Avenue West and 15th Street West, with a four-laned 15th Street funneling traffic onto Ninth/MLK Avenue — drew some skepticism but little outright hostility from those at the meeting.

“It’s alright, I guess, but routing the traffic south and taking the stress off Manatee and Sixth (avenues west) is a great idea,” said Jim Murray, who lives in downtown Bradenton.

Arlene Flisik, another Bradenton resident, also was nonplussed about the idea.

“I would have to just get used to it, I suppose” if it were built, she said.

She was more enthused about the prospects of water-taxi service between the two cities and creating a multi-use trail along railroad right-of-way, as the study suggested.

It also calls for creating a 10-foot wide pedestrian/bike path, protected by a wall, on the Green Bridge’s west side; building a $2 million transit center on 13th Street West between Sixth and Eighth avenues west in Bradenton; and adding a center turn lane on 10th Street West between Eighth and 15th avenues west in Palmetto.

Those are among nearly $10.6 million in projects that can be done quickly and have a good chance of being funded, said Whit Blanton, an Orlando consultant who is doing the study in conjunction with the cities.

“We focused on short-term solutions,” he said.

Potential long-term projects include the Manatee Avenue roundabout; narrowing Manatee and Sixth avenues west and 14th Street West by adding on-street parking; reducing Eighth Avenue West in Palmetto to one lane in each direction and adding a center turn lane; and expanding or implementing bus service in both downtowns.

One longer-term project is a possible third bridge over the Manatee River that would link 27th Street East in Bradenton with Leffingwell Avenue in Ellenton.

A variety of sources — from existing state grants to a “mobility fee” paid by new development — could be tapped to pay for those projects, Blanton said.

The study’s final recommendations will be presented to both cities, as well as Manatee County and the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization for their approval later this year, he said.