This week's feature story in Florida Weekly highlights the multi-modal transportation efforts underway in Lee, Collier, and Charlotte Counties, with discussion of complete streets, light rail, and bike/ped facilities, and quotes from local officials. Nice job, Florida Weekly!
Jan. 9, 2013
A major road-widening project this
year aimed at clearing congestion near U.S. 41 and County Road 951 in
Collier County is just one example of how officials are catching up with
population growth, and preparing for more.
“Right now it looks like we’re in the beginning of a nice growth
period,” said Collier County Commissioner Donna Fiala. “Obviously this
is a place everybody wants to move and I don’t blame them at all.”
Hundreds of millions of dollars will be invested in the region’s
transportation system in 2013, much of it for road repairs or widening.
But the infrastructure for increasingly popular though lesser-funded
“alternative” modes of transportation — meaning getting from points A to
B any other way than one person in a car — is just starting to take
Some of the activity this year may only hint at what a trip across
town could look like a decade or more in the future, while other
possibilities for travel or recreation are ready to enjoy now.
The Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization is exploring the
long-term possibility of light commuter rail, bus rapid transit and a
multi-use path running from the Charlotte County line through Lee and
into northern Collier County. The MPO’s Rail Feasibility Study, expected
to be complete late this summer, is focused on the already existing
CRX/ Seminole Gulf railroad corridor.
While officials aren’t looking at building a commuter rail line any
time soon, some say it will be a key factor in future planning. With
governments tightening belts and Southwest Florida’s already extensive
network of roads, said Lee MPO director Don Scott, “… you’re not going
to be building new corridors, you’re going to be making more of the
Other plans encourage non-motorized travel. The Ring Around the City,
a 20-some-mile multi-use trail that takes travelers from outer
residential areas to downtown Punta Gorda and back, should be fully
linked up by mid-March. Built to accommodate a slew of motorless
pedestrians, and running alongside park facilities, additional phases of
the loop will continue to be built throughout the year.
“Now you can go from the east side of town all the way to Laishley
Park and the event center,” said Dennis Murphy Sr., director of growth
management for Punta Gorda. “I’m hoping that once we get the paths all
done, that particularly the people riding bikes will utilize these to
get to work and go shopping without having to hop in the car just to run
And in Collier County, construction is expected to begin on a portion
of a long-anticipated multi-use trail running close to the Tamiami
Trail from outer Naples — across the Everglades — to Krome Avenue near
Miami. The 12- to 14-foot wide path, called the River of Grass Greenway,
would also have an arm extending out to Everglades City.
“People say we are the end of the trip north and south but we are
also the beginning of the trip east and west, so I think that’s how
we’re going to see Collier County and Naples,” said Lucilla Ayer,
executive director of the Collier Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Ms. Ayer called such transportation features, when used along with
improvements to the bus system and traditional fixes to existing roads, a
“balanced approach.” Another term used to describe it is “multi-modal”
transportation. And another and perhaps the most official is Complete
Streets, a design philosophy centered on incorporating alternative modes
of transportation when it comes to design and funding. Planners in Lee
and other counties are weaving its principles into current building
That means, for instance, incorporating additional bike lanes,
sidewalks and street parking into construction or repair plans. The
plans, at least for now, don’t take into account commuter rail.
“I can tell you that the county is looking toward diversifying our
transportation options,” said Paul O’Connor, director of Lee County
Planning Division. “I don’t think we’re looking seriously at rail at
this point in time. But we have adopted a Complete Streets philosophy.”