Heavy Traffic

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Council Listens to DOT Ideas

 The Fort Myers Beach Town Council met in the first of two workshop sessions Monday, November 6th to discuss a variety of topics that included: a Department of Transportation presentation on future roadway improvements; an update on the Estero Boulevard road, sewer, and waterline upgrades; and the parking compliance ordinance.

During Public Comment, Charlie Whitehead, who made clear he is not a Fort Myers Beach town resident, alerted Town Council that the Lee Board of County Commissioners will take up the proposed Bay Harbour Marina Village matter for San Carlos Island on Wednesday, November 16. He called the potential development “too dense, too tall and incompatible with the surrounding area.” It would worsen traffic and spur similar developments that would eventually be bad for Fort Myers Beach. He asked for any help the Town could provide to deny the project.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) made a presentation regarding roundabouts, traffic signals, congested areas and pedestrian overpasses to ease Fort Myers Beach roadways. Charles Wayne from DOT said the department gathered significant data over the past 18 months to provide suggestions to minimize traffic for the beach community, though he cautioned there is no outright fix. His colleague, Daniel Miller, made the presentation concerning the Summerlin Road to Crescent Street stretch of state-owned roadway.

Miller laid out both short and long-term options, with the former including the removal of the metered signal at San Carlos Boulevard and Buttonwood Drive/Prescott Street, a new signal at San Carlos & Main, permanent signals at Estero Boulevard & Crescent Street and 5th Street & Old San Carlos Boulevard, restriping San Carlos Boulevard to make it two lanes over the Matanzas Pass Bridge, examining roundabouts at pertinent intersections, increased bicycle lanes and adding a sidewalk and bike path on the north side of Hurricane Pass Bridge.

Long-term plans may include widening the Matanzas Pass Bridge to install a northside walkway, additional traffic signals or roundabouts at select intersections, access management for bicycles and pedestrians, enhanced mass transit, parking garages, and informational signage to alert visitors of island driving and parking congestion before they enter any potential bottlenecks. These options will eventually be essential as there are not many island opportunities to institute park & ride programs to reduce some of Fort Myers Beach’s 30,000 in-season vehicles.

Button Down Buttonwood

One suggestion is to remove the metered signal at San Carlos Blvd. and Buttonwood Drive/Prescott Street, and replace it with a permanent one at San Carlos Blvd. at Main Street, leading into the double-striped two lanes over Matanzas Pass Bridge, with the right lane a dedicated turn onto 5th Street, and DOT can accomplish this in a rapid manner. By estimated performance measures, this could increase traffic flow by 22%.

Adding the north sidewalk to Matanzas Pass Bridge would allow pedestrians to continue walking toward Times Square and Old San Carlos Boulevard without crossing at the base and substantially slowing traffic. Expanding bicycle and pedestrian opportunities on Hurricane Pass Bridge will enhance movement as well. An additional element will be pedestrian overwalks across Estero Boulevard to the beach, to eliminate crossing in front of vehicles that slows or stops traffic progress.

DOT hopes to make a more formal presentation to the general public for comment and consensus in February or March 2017, with long-term solutions implemented beginning two to three years following that.

Council member Rexann Hosafros noted that DOT statistics indicate roughly half the automobiles turn right at the base of the Matanzas Pass Bridge and that seems high. She added that if the metered light at Buttonwood/Prescott was removed and a light put in at Main St., the problem would simply move further down to Main Street. This may lead to extremely angry people, perhaps pulling guns, a situation that frightened her in the past. She said a roundabout at the base of the bridge seemed like a possibility.

Mayor Dennis Boback agreed that removing the Buttonwood/Prescott metered light would lead to traffic troubles. Even with the Matanzas Pass Bridge double-striped with the dedicated right turn, drivers will realize they are in the wrong lane and force their cars over to turn left at the bridge base. He said roundabouts are a confusing and unpleasant experience, saying, “Things that happen in roundabouts are insane!”

Vice Mayor Summer Stockton asked how much DOT values local input, and Wayne said it is paramount as these comments guide them. She asked about the potential time frames, and he replied it all depends on funding but most initiatives are at least two years away. She agreed that roundabouts are confusing. Wayne said that roundabouts decrease accidents by as much as 80%, especially fatal ones that occur from T-bone mishaps at intersections.

Stockton commented that she does not favor pedestrian walkovers, preferring instead stricter jaywalking laws and citations, adding that a $200 fine will discourage the practice. She said the suggestions for Matanzas Pass and Hurricane Pass Bridges are great. Council member Gore agreed that she does not favor the pedestrian walkovers either, reasoning that people will chose the quickest way to the beach and walk across Estero Boulevard. Council member Anita Cereceda countered that the pedestrian walkovers could become the signature view for photographs of Fort Myers Beach, and be tourist attractions in their own right. Hosafros said the group looking to recreate the historic Fort Myers Beach arches may be able to incorporate that idea into the overhead walkover design.

Remaining Issues

During the Estero Boulevard Waterline Replacement Project Update, Kaye Molnar, the public information officer for the projects, provided a detail report, stating that Segment 1 is nearly complete, with Segment 2 just underway. Cereceda commented that people are enjoying the new wide sidewalks, she hears fantastic comments about the completed section and it gives her hope for the remainder of the projects.

Council instructed Interim Town Manager Jim Steele to re-install the former Town Hall sign in front of the building, with an outside border color change and an appropriate light to view it at night. Steele said the current sign could be of use at the Bay Oaks Pool as it is in the shape of a lifesaver ring buoy.

Town Council also considered potential projects for 2017-18 Tourist Development Funds, including boat and kayak launches, tourism and informational signage, a new Mound House bobcat, doggie bag signs and Palm Avenue restroom renovation. Finally, during discussion of the Parking Compliance Ordinance, Gore brought up at least 14 different issues, questions and problems she had concerning the document.

Following this, Council took a lunch break before their 3 pm afternoon workshop with the TPI Downtown redevelopment presentation followed by their Council meeting at 4 pm.

 

Gary Mooney