Friday, March 17, 2017

BikeWalkLee comments to Estero Village Council on Estero Parkway Improvement Implementation Plan

Discussions about the design of long-awaited improvements to Estero Parkway (in the Village of Estero), are now underway, and it's time for YOU to get engaged in the conversation! Below is BikeWalkLee's letter to the Council about our concerns, along with our report of the discussion at the Village Council's March 15th workshop.

Report from 3/15 Estero Village Council Workshop:
Estero Parkway Improvement Implementation Plan

PowerPoint Presentation
At the Wednesday March 15 Village of Estero Council Workshop, there was an overview presentation of the Estero Parkway Improvement Implementation Plan by Tetra Tech, a consultant to the Village. (See Agenda Packet PowerPoint Presentation).  The presentation lists three improvements that needed to be made on Estero Parkway:  "road needs to be resurfaced; sidewalk needs to be completed, and beautification (landscaping, signage, and lighting)".  The proposed Plan is to have 2 phases and two separate tracks with Phase 1 (roadway) being designed first, then Phase 2 (beautification) being designed next, and construction on phased timeframes.

After reviewing the Agenda Packet for the workshop, BikeWalkLee sent a letter to the Council in advance of the meeting to alert them to its concerns with the proposed Plan. (See BWL letter.)  BikeWalkLee representatives also spoke during public comment at the workshop about these concerns. BWL urged Council to integrate all components (roadway and beautification) of the project into one design.  A street must be treated as an integrated whole in order to be designed as a complete street.  Council was urged to take advantage of this unique opportunity to re-imagine a street (the entire public right-of-way) that runs through the heart of the Village so that it reflects the community's image and vision for the future.

During the Council discussion on the presentation, there were different opinions from Council members, spanning from (paraphrasing):"I am not sure why we are having this conversation as we already agreed that Estero Pkwy would be a model project" to: "we should only use the negotiated County monies from the Interlocal agreement to finish the sidewalks." During public comment, in addition to BWL representatives, there were about 10 speakers who made a varying array of comments.  Some residents expressed their desire not to have cyclists on the road and didn't want bike lanes. Other residents were most concerned about the need for lighting to make it safer for road users. Several commenters talked about the importance of safety and their support for traffic calming measures.
Another suggestion was that the goals of safety and beautification needs to be integrated, and that the entire roadway (i.e. all public right-of-way space) needed to be designed for the road users, not the homeowners.  She suggested that a good example would be Oaks Blvd. in Naples (which focuses on road users) rather than Coconut Rd. by the Brooks in Estero ( which focuses on homeowners).   Don Eslick (ECCL chairperson) argued that Estero Parkway should be a model complete street---communities throughout Lee County, the Lee MPO, and FDOT have championed complete streets over the past 8 years.  He said that the Council shouldn't be debating whether this should be a complete street--we (Estero) should be leaders and we should be designing our roadways looking towards the future. He urged the Council to follow the recommendations in BikeWalkLee's letter.

Link to Report
 An FGCU student who participated in the Infrastructure Inventory Report done by an FGCU team headed by Dr. Margaret Banyan (BWL founding member) at the Council's request, also commented.  She suggested that the FGCU study and its recommendations be incorporated into this effort.  She also spoke about the need for safe commuting for FGCU students to Walmart and other shopping.

In response to questions from Council members, BWL's Letourneau spoke about the direction FDOT is headed, as reflected in its Complete Streets Implementation Plan, and urged the Council to incorporate these policies (road diets, roundabouts, buffered bike lanes; and changes in design speed standards, and mid-block crossings approach, etc.) into the plan for this project now.  It is not necessary to wait until FDOT formal guidance (e.g., update of the Greenbook) is issued for local governments.  Many communities throughout Florida are moving forward now, and Estero should join these forward-looking communities.  She also urged them to take advantage of the pioneering work done by Bonita Springs in developing model scopes of work and a nationally competitive process for selecting a consultant team on their three recent complete streets-related projects.

 Safety was the focus of comments by Doug Saxton (BWL's Estero rep). With Lee County being ranked the most dangerous area in the country for pedestrians in the 2016 Dangerous by Design national report, if we want to improve safety, the roads have to be designed for the safety of all users regardless of age, ability and mode of transportation. Connectivity to the rest of the countywide bike/ped network is also important.

This was a workshop so no decisions were made by Council.  It is unclear whether the Council will give direction to staff on this project at its next regular Council meeting.  If the Village proceeds according to the consultant outline presented, there should be opportunities for public input in some form during the March-June 2017 window.  BikeWalkLee will keep you posted as dates and opportunities for public input become available.
In the meantime, should you have any questions, feel free to contact Doug Saxton  (BWL's Estero rep) at dpsaxton100@gmail.com.
Report by Doug Saxton and Darla Letourneau


March 14, 2017

Dear Mayor Batos and Council Members:

BikeWalkLee, a volunteer countywide coalition advocating for complete streets since 2009, strongly supports Estero's vision for the Village as a walkable/bikeable community where people want to live, work, and play.  We also support your plan to redesign Estero Parkway as a signature project that would serve as a model street for the Village.  Prior to your March 15th Council workshop to review the Estero Parkway Improvement Implementation Plan (Agenda item 10(b)) to be presented by Tetra Tech, we wanted to share with you our observations about the Conceptual Design as laid out in the agenda package.

When the Village Council took responsibility from the County for Estero Parkway and successfully negotiated a $2.2 million payment from Lee County to cover some of the costs, it created a unique opportunity to make this 1.7 mile roadway a model complete street project.  Estero Parkway is a critically important street, as it runs through the heart of the Village.  It is not very often that a municipality has an opportunity to remake its image through a street project.   We urge you not to lose this unique opportunity to define your community.  If this project is to serve as the model for future roadway improvements in Estero, it is important that this project be intentional, forward-looking, and sustainable.

Based on the PowerPoint presentation in the briefing package, we are concerned that the approach outlined will not yield the desired outcome.  This plan appears to be developing on two separate tracks with different timeframes that deal with the roadway and beautification. This approach is not consistent with best practices that would treat the street as an integrated whole. 

To create a "complete street" all these components are part of the whole and must be designed together.  For example, roadway medians and landscaping designs are tools for traffic calming, not just  aesthetics.  In order for landscaping to enhance the safety of the roadway for all users, the choice of type of vegetation and its location need to be safety-driven.  To determine the best mix of tools for traffic calming, all the tools--hardscape, streetscape, and landscape--must be considered together throughout the design process.  Further, in order to ensure that the project stays integrated to completion, having a consultant team with proven expertise for all components of the plan is important.  Once an integrated design has been completed, the Village can efficiently phase the construction of the project in many different ways.

Streets play an enormous role in determining a place's quality of life.  While people may not know the term "complete street", they know the characteristics of their favorite streets-- streets with tree canopy and attractive landscaping; safe, comfortable and shady places to walk and bike buffered from traffic; moderate traffic speeds, safe ways to cross the street, and inviting places to be for all kinds of uses.  The holistic and integrated planning of a roadway (the entire right-of-way public space) is context sensitive and reflects balance among the needs of the various users. 

The collaboration now underway between the Estero and Bonita Councils on a potential trail project connecting the two municipalities could be further enhanced by collaborating on the demonstration projects now underway in both places. This would make biking and walking safe and accessible in both communities. In addition, it would further enhance the attractiveness of south Lee County businesses. Finally, it would reinforce the Council's vision of the Village as a place where people want to live, work, and play. A collaborative approach enhances the chances for both communities to receive national recognition and compete for grants.

At Wednesday's Council workshop, we urge you to direct staff and the consultant team to:
  • Revise the Conceptual Design to integrate all components of this project into one design; 
  • Develop an RFP process to seek out nationally recognized expert firms/consultant teams; and 
  •  Embrace a robust public involvement process.
Your stated desire is for this Estero Parkway project to serve as the model for future roadway projects in the Village.   If the front-end  process for creating the vision and design for Estero Parkway engages and educates the community and gains its suppor , it will make implementation easier and more efficient for future roadway projects in the Village.

Thank you for considering our views.  We look forward to working with you to make Estero Parkway a model complete street.

Sincerely,

Darla Letourneau
 on behalf of BikeWalkLee

Key Links:
BWL 3/14/17 letter to Estero Village Council re: Estero Parkway Conceptual Design

Tetra Tech PowerPoint Presentation to Estero Council 3/15/17: Estero Parkway Improvement Implementation

 Estero Infrastructure Inventory, by FGCU to Estero Council, 1/20/16

Related BWL Blog Posts: 
January 31, 2016: FGCU Infrastructure Study of Estero lays foundation for creation of walkable/bikeable community

 May 10, 2016:  May 24th: Estero Public Workshop on capital improvement projects

July 13, 2015:  Estero citizens press for bike/ped facilities on Estero Parkway

Sept. 20, 2014: FDOT Embraces Complete Streets: major statewide policy changes announced by Hattaway at Lee MPO Meeting

March 20, 2014: ULI Forum, All Eyes on Estero, at FGCU last week points to ways to make Estero walkable/healthy community 

Feb. 7, 2012: Estero: Roadside revisions begin

Dec. 21, 2010: Estero planning groups' priorities include safer bike paths (News-Press article)

Other Links:
March 17, 2017: News-Press: Estero Parkway to be first big road project for the village

Sept. 7, 2016: News-Press: Estero, Lee County make parkway deal

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