Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Stepping Up 'A Walker's Paradise'

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Stepping Up 'A Walker's Paradise'

Article excerpt

AGING

Downtown Sarasota may be "a walker's paradise," as SCOPE CEO John McCarthy assured more than 100 listeners at the Hyatt Regency Tuesday, but City Manager Tom Barwin said that he sees room for improvement: The community's sidewalks can get even wider and its pedestrians can be safer.

And in time, Sarasota may conceivably become a paradise for driverless cars.

McCarthy, who leads the nonprofit Sarasota County Openly Plans for Excellence, reeled off some age-related data at a forum on optimal aging hosted by the Downtown Sarasota Condo Association. His mention of the downtown core's high walkability ranking from the website WalkScore -- an impressive 92 as compared to 49 for the city as a whole, 29 for Venice and 6 for North Port -- drew applause from an audience that included a fair number of high-rise dwellers.

Optimal aging -- along with positive, successful and even conscious aging -- is a term used to reflect the desire to make the most of later life, instead of being made helpless or dependent by physical, cognitive or financial limitations.

"Sarasota really is in this unique position of having all of the things in place that make for optimal living," McCarthy said, citing factors that ranged from health care access to voter participation. "The biggest issue is really ambulatory: How do we get around? That's one of the areas where we suffer the most."

Barwin, who also was on the morning's panel, picked up the theme, pointing to Sarasota's "unique urban reality that many people are attracted to, because of the desire to be near where the action is, where the restaurants are, so you can walk and socialize."

The city, he said, is embarking on a "super-serious" effort to envision a more efficient mobility system, which could include monorail, light rail, buses, streetcars or water taxis. Wider roads, he said, aren't popular or feasible, and he called for a "reboot" of earlier failed efforts to capture federal transportation funds by designing new public transit options.

"Our first initiative will focus on how to get from the airport to downtown," he said, followed by "shuttling people from downtown to the beaches, some of which is being done privately by the hotels. …

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