Seeing the Light

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Guest Commentary: Lights on Estero

This one really is about “seeing the light.”

Anyone who has driven at night on Fort Myers Beach will agree that the street-lighting on Estero Boulevard stinks. It is way too dim and spaced too far apart. There have been a couple of pedestrians killed in recent years by motorists who just didn’t see them and it’s only a matter of time until it happens again.

Every time someone brings the issue up, it gets shot down by the fact that bright lights attract sea-turtle hatchlings who take a wrong turn toward the lights instead of heading out into the water. OK. I understand that and agree that during the turtle hatching season, the lights need to be dim. The nesting season runs from around mid-April until the end of October. The gestation period is about two months, so if the first eggs are laid around mid-April, the first hatchlings will appear around mid-June, give or take a little on both sides.

June to October is also the off-season for tourism – a period when the island has the fewest visitors and the least amount of traffic. The rest of the year, from November to mid-April, is when traffic picks up, and, as we all know, peaks from around late December to mid-April, when the island is over-flowing with visitors. The fact that a great percentage of them wear dark clothing, are glued to their phones and in many instances have had more than a few drinks, doesn’t make the situation any safer. I’ve had some close calls with pedestrians wandering (or stumbling) in front of me. Often, they can’t be seen, even when they are crossing in the marked crosswalks, doing it right.

This is the time of year when bright streetlights are needed the most. It is also the time when there wouldn’t be any interference with the sea-turtle nesting season.

I refuse to believe that it isn’t possible to devise a seasonal “bright-light/dim-light” system that would work for both the tourists and the turtles.

Bright/dim car headlights were introduced in 1927. For five bucks, you can buy an LED flashlight that has a two-brightness feature, not to mention a strobe effect. I recently bought a new masthead fixture for my sailboat that uses only one switch and two wires that will show either an all-around white anchor light, a tri-color navigation light, or a strobe light that flashes SOS in Morse code, just by flipping the switch a second and third time. We have traffic signals on the approach to the bridge that switch from alternating during the day to working together at night. Don’t tell me this can’t be done.

I couldn’t find any evidence that such a system exists anywhere. There’s probably not a big market for it. My guess is that beachfront communities are probably the only prospective users since inland cities don’t have to accommodate baby sea turtles. Surely there must be a lighting-engineering firm somewhere that could make it happen. Since the County owns the Boulevard and is responsible for lighting it, surely someone there could be tasked with looking into such a system. And surely no one could argue that such a system wouldn’t be a great safety benefit to our community and others like it. All it takes is the will.

I urge all the County Commissioners to come to the Beach at night and drive down the Boulevard while the tourists are all here and see it for themselves. Then they need to do something about it.

 

Jay Light