Meet Sarasota’s new urbanists, the Sarasota Mobility Alliance
Members of Sarasota Mobility Alliance. Courtesy of Colby Heidke.

Meet Sarasota’s new urbanists, the Sarasota Mobility Alliance

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Young, determined and willing to make a change, Colby Heidke realized that if Sarasota’s transportation was to be more accessible to its residents, the community was going to have to do it themselves. Heidke and New College thesis student Chai Leffler founded the Sarasota (SRQ) Mobility Alliance in February, after finding a shared interest in urban planning and accessibility. Since then, they have been hosting meetings on the third Sunday of every month in the Gender and Diversity Center (GDC). The Catalyst spoke with Heidke about the motivations and goals of the SRQ Mobility Alliance.

“I’m originally from Boston, which is very transit-oriented and very walkable,” Heidke stated. “I moved here when I was 15, so I didn’t have my license. . . back home, I could just bike half a mile down the street to the grocery store. Here, you’ll cross three different roads and almost get run over 10 times, and that’s just not fun.”

This contrast broadened Heidke’s view. “That was kind of my biggest eye-opener in Sarasota of realizing that there’s a problem here. Then I started to think about how many adults there are here who don’t have licenses, or who don’t have cars, or people who are too old to drive, or people who are too young to drive or people with accessibility concerns. There’s so many people other than 15-year-old me who are affected by this.”

Recently, Sarasota was ranked 2nd for cyclist deaths in the United States, followed by Manatee County.

A screenshot from the 2020 Sarasota in Motion Transportation Plan document.

Heidke described the story behind the SRQ Mobility Alliance’s founding. “What kind of inspired me to start taking action was when me and my friend Josh, who is one of our co-organizers, went to see Ray Delehanty, or City Nerd as he’s known, speak in Tampa. And we met tons of people in Tampa and in St. Petersburg and from the whole area who had gone there to network. We saw the things they were doing and they were showing up to council meetings, expressing their concerns. They were working sometimes with municipal governments or with transit authorities and they were working to create the change that we were complaining about for the longest time.”

This experience catalyzed the process towards tangible organizing, he recalled. “And after that, I realized, you know what? Like, what am I doing here? Just sitting here. Basically, bitching and moaning about how bad our transit infrastructure is without doing anything about it. That’s kind of what drove me to start taking action.”

Originally, Heidke and his friend were planning to meet with Strong Towns, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting non-suburban forms of urban planning, but after missing a few meetings, they decided to try something else.

Heidke explained that Leffler had originally been his tutor. On their last tutoring session, they shared a conversation in which they realized their common interest in urbanism and reliance on Sarasota’s public transport.  From there, the wheels of the Mobility Alliance began to turn. 

“Our core principle is to create a community bond and a group for people who all share the same concerns and same ideas. [We want to] create a space for those people,” Heidke said about the group’s initial goals. 

“We’ve seen community members from different places in Sarasota County and they’ve expressed to us, ‘Hey, I’ve been going to these commission meetings, City Hall meetings by myself and it feels like nobody else shares these ideas.’ We found that there are so many people in this county and in this community that share the ideals that we do and they just don’t have any outlet to work towards the betterment of the community. The mission statement that we’ve created is creating the community bond and the political will to improve the state of transportation infrastructure, and the built environment of Sarasota.”

The alliance is small and still growing but has some achievable goals in mind, Heidke explained. “We want to create different activities that the community can get out and learn about the existing transit infrastructure. We want to promote alternative modes of transportation. We also want to work with government officials, with municipalities, the county and the Transit Authority to just generally provide more citizen input.”

Heidke emphasized an intent to show that those who are working within the system at the moment to secure funding and resources from the county are appreciated and recognized in their roles, and that these issues should be more heavily prioritized. He also elaborated on the current zoning and the Complete Streets project being undertaken in Sarasota County.

“Things like zoning in the county – a big thing that we’re advocating for is multi-use zoning all over the place,” Heidke said. “The City of Sarasota in the past month or less just passed a new zoning ordinance that allows multi-use zoning around basically every arterial road corridor in the county. Along Beneva, along 41 which has been on North Trail for a long time. So we want to advocate for those zoning reforms to take place throughout the rest of Sarasota County and not just in the city limits.”

“Another thing we’re working on is Complete Streets projects,” he continued “The City of Sarasota has had, I believe, four. . . There are more of those projects in the works within the city limit and we’re trying to push the county to kind of match that commitment and see those roads extended outside of city limits to the same safety standards, the same accessibility and equity standards.”

A screenshot of the active projects tab from the City of Sarasota Transportation Planning Projects page.

On what Sarasota residents can expect to see from the alliance in the future, Heidke expanded, “A big thing we have every third Sunday, here in the GDC at 1:30 p.m., is our local conversations. Those are a way to get people active in the discussion locally about how to make things better. A place where people can share their ideas, a place where people can talk about what they want to fight for. This meeting format was designed basically to have the lowest barrier of entry possible so anyone can come. They don’t have to sign up. They can pop in whenever they want to between 1:30 and 2:30 p.m. We want people to get easily involved.

“In terms of activism our main focus is, to be frank: we don’t want to piss off the county,” Heidke continued. “We want to share our opinions, but from a point of gratitude for what we already have. Just sharing our ideas respectfully, and pushing them, and pushing and pushing and pushing. Something Chai once said was, the government is stubborn but if you’re more stubborn than the government. Eventually you’ll win. Showing up to County Commission meetings consistently, showing up to City [Council] meetings consistently, showing up to MPO [Sarasota/Bradenton Metropolitan Planning Organization] board meetings consistently, and making sure that there’s always someone there.”

Heidke wants the SRQ Mobility Alliance to be the place where a consistent voice is heard when the county makes decisions. Part of that includes the eventual growth of the group, and Heidke is hoping to hear more from the community.

“Size wise, we have 10 or 12 members. So we’re not huge, but we’re barely a month old. We’re expecting to grow. Tons of people have said, ‘Hey, we love what you’re doing, we support what you’re doing. We just don’t like that we maybe aren’t available that day or at that time.’ So we want to create more events and more opportunities for people to pop in to any of our activities on a regular basis. . . Whoever you are, whatever level of commitment you want to have, that’s an option with us.” 

The SRQ Mobility Alliance can be reached at their contact page or Their next local conversation will be held in the GDC on April 21, from 1:30 – 3 p.m.

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