Monday, June 11, 2012

Fort Myers Beach's North Estero Blvd. is a model complete streets project

BikeWalkLee went on a field trip to Fort Myers Beach on June 8th to assess the North Estero Blvd. complete streets project and gives it rave reviews.
 Did you know that tucked away behind Times Square in Fort Myers Beach on North Estero Blvd., there is a new 1-mile gem of  a model complete street!?  It's time for others in Lee County -- the media, city and county staff and elected officials, as well as residents and visitors--to get out there to see what a complete street can look like and the obvious economic and quality of life benefits it can provide.

Last Friday (June 8th) a BikeWalkLee team (Dan Moser, Ann Pierce, and Darla Letourneau, along with Jay Anderson and Chuck Highfield  from one of our partner organizations, Stay Alive...Just Drive!, spent the morning on a field trip to assess this project at the invitation of the Mayor of Fort Myers Beach, Larry Kiker.  The Mayor asked BikeWalkLee to assess whether the approach taken to bike/ped/transit facilities can serve as a model for the larger county Estero Blvd. improvement project currently in the planning phase.   

 Background:  Plans for the North Estero Blvd.  Drainage Improvement  Project began in 2007.  It was designed as a utility project to address major storm water drainage problems, which resulted in flooded streets whenever it rained. The road was to be torn up to install storm water infiltration tanks, the project included complete roadway rehabilitation.  The Town  maintains this road and was responsible for  design and funding of this project.  From the beginning, this project was designed as a complete street, featuring  trolley pull-offs, bike lanes, and sidewalks on both sides of the blvd., separated for the auto and bike travel lanes by landscaping.  The project construction began in the Fall of 2009 and was completed in the Spring of 2011, with a total project cost of approximately $4 million.  The project boundaries are from the beginning of North Estero Blvd. at Time Square, ending at Bowditch Point Park, for a total length of 1 mile.

BikeWalkLee Observations on North Estero Blvd.: 
  • ·         This one-mile stretch is truly a model complete street, taking into account the needs of all the users and providing safe and accessible transportation options and connections.
  • ·         The crosswalks were clearly indicated through strongly contrasting red brick pavers, and yellow warning signs signaling pedestrians are crossing.
  • ·         The sidewalks on both sides were 5 feet wide and set back from the road with a well maintained vegetation strip with a variety of native plantings, and we saw both city and private employees out maintaining the plants during our visit.
  • ·         The vegetation provided shade for pedestrians and cyclists as well as enhancing the sense of place, and creating a significant visual asset.
  • ·         There were multiple LeeTran trolley stops with a variety of accommodations--from a large covered  terminal facility at Bowditch Beach, pull-offs with shelters, seating, bike racks, trash cans, and clear  signage conveying  trolley schedule information.
  • ·         In the 2 hours we were there, we saw frequent trolley runs, with people getting on and off the trolley, loading and unloading bikes. 
  • ·         The biking facilities were excellent, with 4 ft. wide signed and marked bike lanes on both sides of the street.  There was also ample bike parking places at various points along the way.  As well, here were also several places where bikes could be rented. 
  • ·         The biking surface was excellent.   The new storm water drainage system is a narrow continuous grate, parallel and flush against the base of the curb, so there were no grates extending into a cyclist’s path.
  • ·         As a walker and biker, it felt very safe both because of the facilities but also because of the consistently low speed--25 mph.   All components of the street design encouraged this speed limit compliance  and we  observed no  speeding.
  • ·         As a result of these alternative transportation facilities, we saw many people walking, biking, and taking the trolley to and from the park  to Time Square and destinations  in between.
  • ·         Signage was good, and included way finding signs for the various destinations.
  • ·         The storm water drainage system is innovative, quickly draining water away from pavement surfaces and retaining it below the surface for infiltration.  The vegetation strip between the road and the sidewalk  serves not only to separate sidewalks from auto and bike lanes and as aesthetic enhancement, but is a functional part of the overall drainage system.
  • ·         The character of the community was maintained as a part of the roadway design, with colorful mailboxes  and painted designs on various condos.  It  blended well  together conveying a strong  sense of place  encouraging people to be out and about.
  • ·         The safe, accessible and inviting accommodations built into this road make it  possible for many  residents and visitors  to walk or bike the 1 mile distance from Time Square to the beach, reducing the number of cars on the road.
  • ·         There appeared to be adequate  parking for cars and it was designed to blend in with the new roadway design.  Some small motels on the bay side had head parking on the structure side of the bike lane.  There were also several parking areas associated with a community park and  transit terminal, as well a small private lot. 
  • ·         There was a well designed pull off area for delivery trucks near Time Square, which was used frequently, allowing passage  for other  roadway users.
Next Steps:  While this post focused exclusively on the North Estero Blvd. project, we are working on our suggestions for the Estero Blvd. Improvement project and will do a follow-up post, so stay tuned!

Report by Darla Letourneau

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