The Master Plan
Jacobs Engineering and Alta Planning & Design hosted the initial forum for public input for the first-ever Bicycle and Pedestrian master plan for the Town of Fort Myers Beach in Town Hall on Wednesday, February 15. Despite the apparent popularity of walking and biking on Fort Myers Beach, it attracted a surprisingly small turnout of under ten people, once you excluded Town and Lee County staff and consultants, Council members and candidates, program presenters, and the press.
Ned Baier of Jacobs Engineering stated that “this will be the first Bicycle and Pedestrian plan in the history of Fort Myers Beach, making it a crucial document. We are here to provide you with information and statistics, hear your opinions, and answer questions to formulate the best-possible outcome. Our team members often bike and walk to our jobs, and we performed this service for other local communities, including the Town of Cape Coral that will go before its Council on March 27. This is essential, to all work together to make overall bicycle and pedestrian plans as efficient as possible.”
He explained it would be almost impossible for the Town to seek grant dollars without a master plan: “When you shop for money, it is the first thing an agency will want to review; if you don’t have one you don’t get the money and it is that simple. It is also a living document you upgrade over time with changing priorities.”
In setting objectives, Ned explained that “we really won’t concentrate on Estero Boulevard, as its current upgrade is a long-time coming, but on a community-wide process that includes bike safety, education, and better enforcement. We will consider existing conditions, crash statistics, design criteria, and best practices, then host another open house like this in April, before presenting our findings to Town Council in May, so it is a fast schedule. The Town appointed a Public Advisory Committee of roughly 30 people from all walks of life, as well as Town staff, that meets again in March, and that is of great assistance to us. The final goal is to prioritize projects as short-term versus long-term fixes, and create not a wish list but a vision.”
Brad Davis of Alta Design discussed walking and biking trends nationally, in Florida, and on Fort Myers Beach. “Nationally, walking and biking is increasing incrementally, with design emphasis on safety. This is especially important here, as Florida is the most dangerous state in the nation to walk and bike, dominating the list with 8 of the top 10 cities, including the Cape Coral / Fort Myers that includes Fort Myers Beach. This drives home the importance of safety locally.”
He calls Fort Myers Beach “unique! Over half of your population is at or near an age where they are changing their driving habits due to physical capabilities so it is already aligned with walking and biking. We need to move people around Town in a format that is safe and convenient, as the island is conducive to a walkable environment.”
Katie Habgood of Jacobs Engineering stated that “although the plan will be brand-new, we are not starting from scratch! The Town accumulated a lot of previous literature and there are some great ideas in those older concepts. We will take ground-level photographs and overhead drone video to better understand the possibilities and conditions, inventory existing facilities, and identify the places where people walk, like to the beach, Town Hall, public library, or Bay Oaks.” Katie noted Times Square and Downtown as the island’s most dangerous areas to walk or bike.
Ned explained that Florida is developing a statewide trails program, with the opportunity for Fort Myers Beach to link to it from both the north and south ends. “This is the Shared Use Nonmotorized Trail Network, or SUNTrail, and it is exciting as it has available funding, so that is on our radar. I encourage all residents and visitors to go to the Wikimap site to let us know what project will work for you; this is ultimately your trail system master plan so let’s hear from you!”
The site can be found at bit.ly/WikiBikePed.