The Town of Fort Myers Beach hosted roughly 25 people at its final public input session for its first-ever Bicycle & Pedestrian Master Plan in Town Hall on Wednesday evening, April 26; earlier in the day the Town’s Bicycle & Pedestrian Project Advisory Committee reviewed the plan and progress to date.
“There are lots of good reasons to do this,” explained Ned Baier, project manager of The Jacobs Engineering Group that the Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) hired to oversee the process. “Once Council adopts the plan, you will have a vision for the Town you can implement for years. These things won’t happen immediately, but you have a guide to determine priorities, including funding costs and existing conditions. We hope to make the final presentation to Town Council in June.”
His team took the reFRESH Estero Boulevard projects into consideration, “so we have a better understanding of what you contend with every day. This helped us to emphasize beach access points, the Beach Elementary School, Matanzas Pass Preserve, Town Hall and the Public Library as points to which people want to walk or bicycle. The Project Advisory Committee conducted three meetings to develop these key points.”
High priority items include interpretive signage, a bicycle and pedestrian safety education campaign, and walking programs for seniors and nature events. Primary concerns include improving the safety of pedestrian crosswalks and bike lanes, while neighborhood sidewalks scored low.
“Fort Myers Beach is already a walking community,” explained Brad Davis, Baier’s colleague. “Your 2015 fulltime population was just under 7,000, with seniors between 65 and 84 totaling 42%. Metrics show that 7% are already walkers, with another 4% regular bikers, for 11%. Compare that to Cape Coral where walkers and bicyclists combine for less than 1% and you see how walking and biking are already integral parts of the beach community. Throw in that the Fort Myers/Cape Coral area, that includes Fort Myers Beach, is the most dangerous place to walk or bike in the nation, and you can see the importance and relevance of creating this plan.”
The Cultural Loop
Davis explained two possible options to expand the beach network: “The State of Florida is implementing its SUNTrail program that goes from the east to the west coast, including a segment from St. Petersburg to Naples, and Lee County is examining a connector that runs through Fort Myers Beach. Locally, your Comp Plan recommends a Hidden Pathway System that meanders through neighborhoods across the entire island, including an intriguing segment that would link the Mound House to the Library and School and the Bay Oaks Recreation Center that we call The Cultural Loop. Artwork is very important to Fort Myers Beach, so there is a real opportunity to incorporate that here, to make it fun and inviting and unique.”
A Beach Elementary School teacher liked The Cultural Loop. “We teach the 3rd through 5th graders bicycle safety, but there is no safe way for them to get to us, so it would be nice if there was a school connection. This is great and I hope kid-friendly.”
Davis stressed way-finding signs: “for instance, Times Square is a five-minute bike ride in that direction, really helps with tourism. You brand The Cultural Loop, to get people to where you want them to go.” They recommend mini-roundabouts at the Town’s busiest intersections, to slow vehicles and make families feel safe, with less stress. Shade, bike parking and enhanced lighting will all encourage more people to walk or bike.
A major audience concern was that bicyclists and walkers share the 9-foot sidewalk from the Matanzas Pass Bridge to Lovers Lane, with Davis advocating a shared-use logo that recommends bicyclists remain near the curb, with walkers on the outside. Those in the crowd encouraged bicyclists to sound off using horns and bells to safely alert others of their presence. “This can be essential to the safety campaign,” said Davis. “Businesses can encourage this by giving away those items.”
“There are all kinds of ideas on how to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety,” concluded Baier, “but education is still the best. As vehicle numbers and speeds increase, an excellent campaign keeps you safe while maintaining the character of the beach. The Lee County Tourist Development Council offers financial assistance to conduct this kind of public educational program, with the cycle beginning in December.” He said the bicycle and pedestrian report would be on the Town and MPO websites for public review and comments before going to Council.
When asked how soon before the Town will realize any of these improvements, Baier stated that “after Council approval, probably about two years, though we can do the safety and education pretty quick, then continue to do things incrementally.”