Tuesday, June 12, 2012

BikeWalkLee's suggestions for County Estero Blvd. Improvement Project

 In yesterday's blog we reported on part I of our June 8th field trip to Fort Myers Beach: Fort Myers Beach's North Estero Blvd. is a model complete streets project. Part II of our assignment from the Fort Myers Beach Mayor was to provide suggestions for the County's Estero Blvd. Improvement Project, which is the subject of today's blog.
*See NBC-2 News interview with Dan Moser on 6/13,

BikeWalkLee's suggestions for the County Estero Blvd. Improvement Project:
  • ·         The city and county should strive to design the larger 6-mile Estero Blvd. improvement project similar to the North Estero Blvd. project.
  • ·         However, the issues and constraints that have to be dealt with on Estero Blvd. are more complex than the North Estero Blvd. area so it may not be a simple question of just using North Estero as the model.
  • ·         We spent some time on our field trip assessing the issues on Estero Blvd. and have the following preliminary thoughts.  Without knowing the full range of options and issues on the project, we know these ideas will have to be refined when more information becomes available.
  • ·         Estero Blvd. is a constrained roadway on a narrow barrier island; therefore it is essential that the redesign of the area rely heavily on making it a pedestrian/bicycle/transit-friendly community.  These are the alternative forms of transportation that are the key to improving access and safety and livability in this area.
  • ·          In order for an expansion of the successful trolley system to be effective, bike and pedestrian facilities and safety need to be enhanced since the trolley riders will  be either cyclists (through bike rentals) or walkers while they're visiting the island.
  • ·         It's also essential that whatever changes are made to enhance trolley access do not come at the expense of safety and facilities for those cycling onto the island. For this area to truly have multi-modal transportation options, it must be designed in a holistic way, not taking away mobility for any one group.

·     This is what we'd like to see on San Carlos Blvd.:

o   San Carlos Blvd., from Summerlin up to the Matanzas Pass Bridge, needs to be reconfigured so that the travel lanes are narrowed from current 14 ft. to 11 ft., adding 4 ft. bike lanes on both sides.
o   At the smaller bridge just north of Buttonwood Dr, the road surface narrows, so there may not be room for bike lanes in that one section.  If that’s the case, sharrows should be painted on the road to clearly indicate to drivers that they must share the lane with bicycles.
o   The sidewalks in this section are in need of repair in several areas.
o   The continuous left turn (suicide) lane needs to be replaced with access management that includes dedicated turn lanes where appropriate.
o   The roadway improvements need to be designed for a maximum 35 mph speed.
o   The area at the foot of the Matanzas Pass Bridge coming on island is very dangerous for pedestrians and especially cyclists.  For pedestrians, because a sidewalk exists only on one side of the bridge, crossing San Carlos Blvd at Main St is problematic, especially since the northbound motor vehicle configuration expands to two-lanes from one before it’s necessary (more on that to follow).   
o   For cyclists’ needs, the additional northbound lane is added too soon. If it were left as one lane a left turn lane could still be provided and a bike lane could be included in the configuration (see below).

o   The lanes on the bridge should be reconfigured to reduce the breakdown lane on the left side from an 8 ft. lane to a 4 ft. bike lane, putting the extra 4 ft. on the right side of the trolley lane for a bike lane.  This will make it safer for bikes and not create the current conflicts with the trolley.  To do this only requires reallocation of space which can be accomplished by re-painting the lines on the bridge.  This is one thing that can be done now to improve the situation immediately (a green bike lane is recommended).   
Many of the following problems can be resolved by reconfiguring the bridge.

      •   The signage on the bridge, coming onto the island, directing auto drivers to yield to trolleys are in the wrong place.  This sign should be before or at the beginning of the shared right turn lane, which emanates from the former bike/trolley only lane, as one approaches the bottom of the bridge, instead, it is at the bottom and end of this lane.   
      •  In this same right turn lane shared by bike/trolley and now autos, the sign indicating that drivers should yield to cyclists and pedestrians is entirely inadequate.  First and foremost, the law states that drivers are to stop, not merely yield. Signs indicating yield are outdated and dangerous. Next, the actual yield symbol, in the top-most part of the larger yellow sign board, while probably meeting state standards, is far too small in the larger context of the visual complexity and confusion the driver is faced with at that point.   
      •  We noticed quite a few pedestrians cutting across Estero Blvd. at the foot of the bridge coming on island, which is very dangerous as well as disruptive to the flow of traffic.  We recommend that a "low fence/railing",  like you find in Washington, DC to keep the tourists from crossing on the Mall except at crosswalks, be installed from the parking lot by the bridge all the way back to the crosswalk so that pedestrians are directed to cross appropriately.

Once you are on island, the reconfigured Estero Blvd. needs to have:
    •   4 ft. bike lanes on both sides or sharrows where there’s too limited ROW
    • dedicated left turn lanes vs. continuous left (suicide) lanes that are designed in a way that allow emergency vehicle access
    • Although a vegetation buffer between sidewalk and roadway similar to the one on North Estero Blvd. is desirable, there may not be enough ROW to do that here. 
    •   The speed limit in "downtown" FMB should also be 25 mph, going to 35 mph when the commercial area with heavy bike/ped traffic is less dense. 
    •   Trolley pullouts with seating, bike parking, and signage similar to N Estero Blvd are needed.
    • Since, unlike North Estero, which is a dead-end street, this is a thoroughfare, the traffic is much heavier and pedestrian crossings may need to be more than just the warning yellow sign.  For example, flashers or lights in the sidewalk itself, along with black and white regulatory signs should be considered (an example is Old 41 in downtown Bonita Springs).
    • Stormwater drainage fixes will be more complicated than on North Estero since all the water will have to be treated under the road vs. running off into the bay.  However, the system used there should be used if practical.    
    • While the overall improvement project will take several years, there are some inexpensive things that can be done now to improve the road for cyclists and pedestrians: 
      •   They can use paint and put up flexible bollards to inexpensively turn the suicide middle lane into a functioning turn lane.  
      •  Some strategic enforcement could help address some of the bike/ped safety issues we observed. 
      •  Some of the crosswalk improvements could be done now, even if the roadway is to be torn up in the future.  Consider doing this “on the cheap", using paint and signage. 
      •  Very bold and high contrast paint could be used to make all pedestrian crossings more eye-catching, including chevrons and other pre-crosswalk markings that signal to drivers to slow when approaching a crossing. 
      •  As mentioned above in the San Carlos Blvd. section, the lanes on the bridge can be reconfigured now to immediately improve the safety for all users by simply re-painting the lines on the bridge, and painting the bike lanes green.  At the same time, the signage and pedestrian safety "fencing" issues at the entrance and exit of the bridge could be addressed. (see above for details)
BikeWalkLee looks forward to being part of the Estero Improvement project public outreach effort.  We believe that the project should be a joint partnership between the city and the county so that this project, which is the very heart of Fort Myers Beach's identify and community character, be consistent with what the community wants.  This is much more than a road project--it is a redesign of the public space at the heart of this community.

 To maximize the community involvement in this project, we suggest that the project team consider the use of innovative online interactive tools, such as MindMixer.   This is an exciting new community engagement tool, which acts as a virtual town-hall allowing community planning to happen online.  We invite you to check out the Burbank, CA website, which used this tool to develop their "Comp Plan" amendments.  We understand that Lee County staff is considering this tool for engaging the public in the Comp Plan amendments process.

BikeWalkLee thanks the Fort Myers Beach Mayor for inviting our input on this important effort.

Click here for the full report.

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