Walk & Roll!
Representatives from the Jacobs Engineering Group guided the Town of Fort Myers Beach’s new Bicycle and Pedestrian Project Advisory Committee through its initial meeting that will lead to its recommendations to Town Council this summer. Council members appointed the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee representatives last year. They are joined by representatives from a number of town, county and community organizations.
Project manager Ned Baier explained that this group is “something the Town wanted to do in conjunction with its bike and walking improvements, to coordinate a master plan for the entire island. We want to make this a safe corridor, because what we come up with and construct over the next few years is what we will live with every day for decades. As for the Jacobs Group, our team walks and bikes all the time, and have done master plans like this for other communities, most recently in Cape Coral.”
The committee’s primary purpose is to pursue safety opportunities in conjunction with available funding to formulate the Town’s master plan, “and since it will be the first one, that is a real milestone,” Ned says. “It will align with other local and state plans, and will evolve as new parts and issues occur, including a potential beach link to the SUNTrails statewide bicycle trail.”
Ned explains that the committee will “see what projects are possible and what can receive funding to achieve the end result, with criteria to identify and rank these. We know every community is unique, with different politics and geography, but the key elements to each project is transparency to involve everyone, and we will do that through websites and public meetings.”
Pedestrian Deaths Hit Home
His colleague, Brad Davis, discussed national and local trends. “People have a healthy image of walking and biking, and that is something that we all aspire to be as a community. Locally, the Florida Department of Transportation places increased emphasis on safety for walkers and bikers because Florida leads the nation in pedestrian deaths. Pedestrians account for just 3% of all crashes but are 22% of fatalities, as they are the most vulnerable road users, with the Cape Coral / Fort Myers metro area the most dangerous in the nation, and that includes Fort Myers Beach; that ranking literally hits home and highlights the need for these safety improvements.”
As for Fort Myers Beach demographics, Brad calls it “very seasonal, with roughly 50% of the population at an age where they either cannot drive or are changing their travel behaviors to drive less, so the focus is to help people get around without driving. The beach naturally lends itself to walking and biking, so we need to leverage that in a holistic approach that combines infrastructure with enforcement and education.”
Walk It Out
Katie Habgood of the Jacobs Group added, “You do not start off with a blank slate, despite this being your first meeting, as there is already a lot of data and mapping work of Fort Myers Beach. The island has really good sidewalk coverage, and it helps that it is a small island with good coverage on connector roads. Hot spots for crashes are easy to see, at the north end by Times Square and Downtown, though the two most recent fatalities are at the south end of the island. You can already easily leave your car and walk or bike to your destination, restaurant or beach access, and this indicates that residents want more walking access to more places so we need more and safer bicycle and pedestrian facilities.”
Baier added, “It is important to work closely with Lee County because of their current work on Estero Boulevard, and we like its methodology of keeping safety first with the wide sidewalks and crosswalks in the Downtown area, and dedicated bike lanes to soon cover the rest of Estero. The Town already did a great job with the north end of the island – really nice!”
He laid out the group’s schedule: There will be two more meetings, on Monday, March 27, and in May, with two public workshops on Wednesday, February 15, at Town Hall, and an Open House in April on a date to be determined, for the public to address their priority and safety concerns.
Everything will go online on the Town and Metropolitan Planning Organization websites, and people can go to Wikimap to draw their own suggestions – “we had a lot of success with this in Cape Coral, with over 4,000 views, so it was really affective,” Brad added. “This will be a great tool because Fort Myers Beach has so many seasonal residents and visitors, they can provide their input even if they are not physically here.”
Members of the committee include Town Council appointees: Peter Dolid, Patrick McKeown, Ron Fleming, Dan Andre and Dan Hendrickson plus Chelsea O’Riley (Fort Myers Beach Public Works), Public Works Director Scott Baker, FMB Parks & Rec Director Sean De Palma, Estero Blvd Project Manager Rob Phelan, Lee County Tourist Development Council Simone Behr, Lee Parks & Rec Paul Yaccobelli, Lee Principal Planner Wayne Gaither, Lee MPO Ron Gogoi and Bruce Butcher of the FMB Public Safety Committee and BikeWalkLee. A Chamber of Commerce representative, Beach School Principal Jeff Dobbins, Fire Division Chief Ron Martin, Lee Sheriff Lt. Tim Lalor and Brett Messner with Tetra Tech are all members of the advisory group.
The public is welcome to attend the February 15 public meeting in Council chambers at Town Hall from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.