The Town of Windermere hopes to gain ground with Orange County on a joint transportation project that could offer traffic relief to town and county residents.
Windermere Town Manager Robert Smith really hopes there is a light at the end of the tunnel for what’s been a years-long struggle to identify possible solutions to the town’s cut-through traffic issue.
With a new mayor and elected officials leading both the town of Windermere and Orange County Government – as well as data proving the majority of vehicles that cut through the town originates from outside the town’s limits and is destined for a location outside of town – Smith believes the town stands a better chance at convincing Orange County officials to perceive the issue as a problem that not only affects the town of Windermere but West Orange County.
“It's a new administration, and I believe that now it's not only Windermere residents who are reaching out to the elected officials, but people in Horizon West,” Smith said. “They are letting them know that this is a regional issue, not a local issue. And if they're expecting us to make Main Street into four lanes, well, that’s not going to happen. That would kill our downtown, and pretty much destroy our little slice of heaven we have here. It's a unique town because when you pull into Windermere, it has that different type of feel. It's a bit similar to Oakland – it's a little oasis.”
According to several traffic studies the town has conducted, the majority of the vehicles that pass through come from outside the town and are also heading somewhere outside the town’s limits, which confirmed the town’s suspicion that the Orange County’s rapid development in surrounding areas, such as Horizon West, are exacerbating the issue.
Smith said he and Windermere Mayor Jim O’Brien have begun communicating with Orange County officials and will continue discussions in the coming weeks to determine the feasibility of pursuing a joint transportation-improvement project to mitigate the issue.
“Mayor O'Brien and I have been talking and coordinating with Orange County because now we have actual data to show that about 76%, of the traffic coming through town is not originating within the town's limits and their destination is outside the town's limits,” Smith said. “So with that data, it's easy to demonstrate that this isn't a Windermere problem – it's an Orange County problem. Two out of three permits Orange County approves come from Horizon West and those residents who live east of us who are trying to get to their jobs or some form of entertainment are using us as a cut-through. So this is a West Orange County issue – not just a Windermere issue.”
To keep the traffic flowing within the town, Smith said the town plans to look at the possibility of adding a roundabout at Windermere Road and Main Street, as well as a continuous right-hand turn at 12th Avenue and Chase Road at an estimated cost of $250,000.
“We're also looking at talking to urban planners to figure out if there are other ways we can resolve the issue – like maybe creating pockets parks.”
– Windermere Town Manager Robert Smith
“That’ll, hopefully, keep the traffic moving and flowing so people are less prone to utilize these side streets to cut through,” he said. “And then we're going to be working with Orange County from a regional perspective and just say, 'Listen, we have to establish some parallel relievers so (vehicles) can use other roadways to get from west to east.’ Whether it's to the south or north of us, we don't care, we just need to relieve the pressure, and that is an Orange County issue. Because, again, the magnitude of county permits being approved is creating a lot more traffic not only for us, but the surrounding area. I know they're looking at a parallel reliever for (State Road) 50 between (State Road) 429 and (US) 27, and that's going to be on Seidel Road, but that has nothing to do with helping us.”
TRAFFIC GRID REDESIGN
In addition to its efforts to partner with Orange County, the town is also considering the possibility of doing an upgrade to its transportation grid system to discourage drivers from using side streets and back roads to cut-through, Smith said.
A former idea to use barriers strategically placed at certain intersections has been placed on hold, Smith said. Instead, the town has been conversing with Wade Trim to explore the possibility of designing a traffic grid that would de-incentivize would-be drivers from cutting through side streets via pocket parks – linear parks that serve as a four-way stop.
“We're also looking at talking to urban planners to figure out if there are other ways we can resolve the issue – like maybe creating pockets parks,” he said. “And instead of employing a temporary barrier system, we might design a traffic grid that would alleviate some of the cut-through traffic without harming the residents that much. … There are other smaller, rural communities that have these types of grid systems. The pocket park we have here on Fifth Avenue is a great example. That used to be open, but then they closed it, so no people have to go around to fourth or sixth in order access Main Street or Sixth Avenue.”
In the meantime, the town will continue to handle the cut-through traffic and speeding using police officers, as was decided by the council six weeks ago with the approval of $24,000 to pay police officers overtime for increased traffic patrol.
“Our officers are out there are strictly on an overtime basis up to six times per week, with the exception of when school gets out, holidays, and things like that,” Windermere Police Chief David Ogden said. “And right now, we're also keeping data with a speed-measuring device. We also purchased a brand new one, and they'e both in use, but the old one kind of gives us just generic data and this new one gives us a lot more specific data, including vehicles traveling both north and south, so we're going to get a lot more analytical data to pull from that. So far, we're about six weeks in, and we were seeing that about 85% of the vehicles were traveling between 0 and 19 miles per hour, which is acceptable. And right now, it's at about 94%, so there is some benefit with our officers being out there, but that's not a long-term strategy that's going to solve the problem.”