Saturday, November 23, 2013

Lee MPO Board approves rail study recommendations and goals on land use scenario project

The Nov. 22nd Lee MPO Board meeting covered many topics of interest to BikeWalkLee, including the rail feasibility study, the land use scenario project, TIGER, the bike/ped safety action plan, and transit.  Below are highlights from those discussions and actions.

At Friday's Lee MPO Board meeting, the new members from Cape Coral City Council were welcomed--Mayor Sawicki, Councilman Burch, and Councilman Williams.  Councilman Burch was elected as the Lee MPO's representative to the statewide MPO Advisory Council Governing Board, with Councilman Leonardo as the alternate.  Chairman Ruane asked Mayor Sawicki to put someone from the Cape on the MPO's Executive Committee.

Rail Feasibility Study
Following through on the Board's 2010 direction as part of the 2035 LRTP, a consulting team has been working for the past year on the MPO Rail Feasibility Study of the CSX/Seminole Gulf Corridor.( Click here to review the report.) The study assessed the long term feasibility of implementing public multi-modal transportation options (including passenger rail, bus rapid transit, and/or a multi-use path) within the corridor through Lee and northern Collier County.  The report recommendations, endorsed by the TAC and CAC, direct staff to move forward with the preservation of the corridor in the comprehensive and MPO plans and to further pursue with FDOT the options for purchasing the corridor.

The consulting team made a presentation about the study and the Board had an extensive discussion of the report and its recommendations. Bonita Springs Mayor Nelson argued that it was a smart business move to preserve the corridor, that it was a critical part of the county's long term multi-modal vision, and that the public needs to invest in its own future.  Others, including Fort Myers Councilman Flanders, spoke in support of this visionary step, and Commissioner Manning encouraged all jurisdictions to amend their Comp Plans to reflect preservation of the rail corridor. Some members, including Cape Coral councilman Carioscia, spoke against the proposal, arguing that the public shouldn't subsidize railroads, or that it was yesterday's technology (Councilman Leonardo).  A representative from Seminole Gulf railroad also spoke against the proposal.

BikeWalkLee's Ann Pierce spoke in support of the report recommendations.  The rail study offers opportunities for excellence in good fiscal management, integrating land use and transportation planning, and stable, diverse economic development.  The most important recommendation to draw from this study is that "The intact rail corridor is very important to the future of Lee Co and should be preserved as a singularly unique asset.” 

Pierce suggested that the Board not get bogged down in details now about the types of transportation that may ultimately traverse this corridor.  We know it can serve multiple purposes not only within Lee Co, but as a part of an extended link in SWFL.  There is sufficient ROW to serve all, with the exception of a short portion in Fort Myers that should also be acquired. Pierce emphasized that the maximum potential of this asset may not be realized for decades, but support of FDOT’s purchase of this ROW is one important step in changing direction from always looking beyond and outside of ourselves in expensive attempts to lure the bonanza job creators, to focusing on our own “Economic Gardening” -  developing and growing our own businesses. 

The Board adopted Mayor Nelson's motion to approve the report recommendations, with four members voting against the motion.

Land Use Scenario Project

Also following through on the Board's 2010 direction as part of the 2035 LRTP, over the past year a consultant team, along with MPO staff, has undertaken an intensive effort to explore alternative ways the county could grow that would reduce or shorten vehicle trips and increase other travel options.  Identifying future land use patterns as alternative scenarios will allow the MPO and citizens of Lee County to evaluate the costs and benefits of different patterns.  At the end of this process, the MPO will select a preferred land use scenario, which will become the basis of the future transportation vision in the MPO's forthcoming 2040 LRTP.  BikeWalkLee has been a strong supporter of this effort since 2010.

The Board unanimously approved the goals and objectives of the project.  (Click here for goals and objectives of project.)  The next step of the project is an interactive "planners workshop" on December 6th, to identify potential future concentrations of housing and jobs and help create the alternative scenarios. Public engagement on the scenarios is planned to begin in early 2014.  Scenario selection by the Committee's and MPO Board is anticipated for late spring or summer 2014.  The selected scenario will be used as the 2040 socioeconomic data for the development of the 2040 LRTP, which must be adopted by December 2015.

TIGER and Bike/Ped Safety Action Plan Implementation

MPO staff is busy on multiple tasks related to initiating the TIGER project, and the Board approved the grant agreement and other FHWA required documents.  Don Scott, MPO executive director, outlined the extensive reporting requirements of the grant, including tracking performance measures developed to measure the impact of the complete streets grant project five years out.

BikeWalkLee's Darla Letourneau thanked Don Scott for all his work on preparing for TIGER implementation and all the advance federal requirements work involved, and then focused her remarks on implementation of the bike/ped safety action plan (BPSAP), which is an integral part of accomplishing the safety goals of our TIGER grant.   Letourneau thanked the Board for making TIGER/BPSAP implementation a standard agenda item for all board meetings, since sustained leadership and attention will be required to implement both components. We know that you can't reduce bike/ped fatality and injury numbers simply by constructing new facilities--it must be combined with education, enforcement, and culture change. 

Letourneau stated that November has been a particularly deadly month on Lee County roads.  To date, there have been nine traffic deaths in November, with four of them being pedestrians, or 44% of all roadway fatalities.  And this doesn't count the pedestrians and bicyclists that were seriously injured in crashes this month.  In 2013 to date, there have been a record 19 pedestrian fatalities (and 3 bicyclist fatalities)--a level not seen since 2007.  (The below graph is already out of date.)  The targets established in the BPSAP are for a 5% reduction a year...and we're moving in the wrong direction!
Pedestrian fatalities are now at 19 (vs. 18) as of 11/22/13

Letourneau reported that Lee County is not the only place that's experiencing increased bike/ped deaths.  This week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued its 2012 report showing an overall increase of 3.3% in traffic fatalities, with pedestrian and cyclist deaths rising at almost double that rate--6.4 and 6.5 percent respectively.

Letourneau thanked Commissioner Pendergrass for convening the upcoming (Dec. 10th) BPSAP implementation kick-off meeting with all local law enforcement leaders.  FDOT District 1 Secretary Billy Hattaway, as well as a law enforcement official from Hillsborough County, will also be part of this important meeting.  Letourneau urged all the local jurisdictions to make sure their law enforcement officials as well as their staff make implementation of the BPSAP a high priority, and work in concert with the MPO and other partners.

As part of the Board discussion on this issue, Cape Councilman Burch thanked BikeWalkLee for its efforts on TIGER and bike/ped safety, noting that it was impressive to see the accomplishments since he was last on the MPO Board four years ago.

Councilman Flanders spoke about the bike/ped fatality data and asked that staff include in its presentation to the Board information about the cases of each crash and fatality.

LeeTran's Director, Steve Myers, provided an update on the County's Transit Task Force.  He also reported on the November 14th service changes, stating they were watching it closely to make sure the impacts weren't too adverse and had made some corrections based on problems identified.

Mayor Ben Nelson asked what was being done to ensure continued funding of the highly successful Lee-Collier link bus, called LinC.  He said that this was the most successful joint venture before the counties and an excellent example of regionalism and we need to find ways to keep it going.  He offered to assist in any way he could to make sure this route continues.

December MPO Board Meeting
The next meeting of the MPO Board will be a joint meeting between the Lee and Charlotte County MPO Boards on December 13th at 1:30 p.m. (location to be determined).  There will be an important presentation of the FDOT commissioned report by the Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR), which is a review of MPO 2035 LRTP's done by MPOs throughout Florida in 2010.  It also addresses the funding shortfall facing Florida and provides informative and timely information as the Lee MPO embarks on its 2040 process. Click here for a copy of the CUTR report

Report by Darla Letourneau

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