This week's Moser column highlights the lack of adequate bicycle accommodation on McGregor Blvd. (Lee County's signature historic and beautiful roadway) and opportunities missed over the decades to make it bike-friendly.In many ways, McGregor Boulevard is a reflection of our part of Southwest Florida. It exemplifies the beauty and history that bring people here. Unfortunately, from the perspective of someone who’s used this roadway almost daily for decades, it’s a reflection of our overall transportation network’s all too frequent lack of adequate bicycle accommodation, at least up to this point.
Running adjacent to the Caloosahatchee River its entire length from downtown Fort Myers to the Sanibel Causeway, this historic royal palm tree-lined roadway that was once a cattle trail to Punta Rassa changes personalities a number of times along the way. While much of it is indeed beautiful, only the segment from near Shell Point Boulevard to the causeway can be considered bicycle-friendly. Ironically, although most of the roadway accommodates pedestrians, the causeway approach is the only segment that does not. Also, three different governments own and operate various segments, perhaps explaining the personality changes.
From downtown Fort Myers toward Colonial Boulevard is McGregor’s most urban segment. It has curbs and gutters, sidewalks on both sides, and a middle turn lane on much of it, with landscaped medians interspersed. Unfortunately, those medians make it virtually impossible to ride a bike on the roadway because the width of the travel lane at those pinch-points is too narrow for bikes and motor vehicles to share, thus creating a major safety problem for those who don’t know how to handle such situations — cyclists and motorists alike. As the name indicates the 6-foot sidewalks re intended for pedestrian use, and this segment is extremely popular with walkers and runners, so the cyclists relegated there should proceed slowly and with extreme caution when encountering pedestrians and motor vehicles turning in and out of side streets and driveways.
From Colonial Boulevard to College Parkway the dynamics are much the same, although without medians and only some curb and gutter. However, unlike the section to the north, there are few places where a middle turn lane exists, so most bicycle riders end up on the sidewalk, sometimes terrorizing pedestrians and dealing with the same side-street and driveway dangers that are common to any sidewalk riding.
Where it should — but doesn’t — improve for cyclists is from College Parkway to Gladiolus Drive in Iona. The roadway becomes a four-lane, high-speed highway with a wide curb lane (14 feet versus the usual 12 feet) that does little more than induce speeding. In fact, the original 45 mile per hour in that segment had to be raised to 55 miles per hour because almost everyone was driving that speed from the day the “improvements” were complete. The Florida Department of Transportation has promised, at least verbally, to reconfigure this segment to include bike lanes when it’s resurfaced. In the meantime, the highway mentality prevails, forcing most bicyclists onto the 8-foot concrete sidepath.
The next section, from Gladiolus Drive to Summerlin Road at the outlet mall near Shell Point Boulevard is, unfortunately, the most underachieving segment, having a 6-foot sidepath on only one side. It’s got the most potential for a quick fix because its four travel lanes and an almost continuous middle turn lane is ripe for a road diet that would reduce it to two travel lanes, two bike lanes, sidewalk on both sides and a series of managed turn lanes. So far, that idea has fallen on deaf ears.
Finally, where Summerlin Road and McGregor Boulevard come together at the outlet mall, Summerlin becomes McGregor, and it returns to another highway configuration. As noted earlier, bike lanes are finally part of the infrastructure here, but pedestrians are out of luck since there is no separated space for their use on this busy, high-speed segment. Good luck to runners or walkers staying at hotels in Punta Rassa. (Pedestrians aren’t allowed on causeway bridges, a travesty in itself).
In a nutshell, Lee County’s signature corridor is a major disappointment for bicyclists. Even more discouraging is the fact that there have been many opportunities throughout the decades to make it bike-friendly that were passed up. But, like we’re experiencing with roads that are under Lee County control, there’s still a chance that the progress happening throughout our transportation network will eventually include McGregor Boulevard as well.
Now that the holidays are behind us it’s time to get back to business. Among the many things on the agenda is getting the $10 million TIGER grant in full gear; fully engaging law enforcement to help bring our dismal record down as part of our Bicycle/Pedestrian Safety Action Plan; finalizing and final approval of Lee County’s Comprehensive Plan; and continuing to move in the right direction as it relates to creating a network of Complete Streets in our county. Check BikeWalkLee’s blog (bikewalklee.blogspot.com) to get all the details on these important matters and many more items of interest.
Until next time, I’ll look for you on the roads and trails.
— Dan Moser is CyclingSavvy instructor/ trainer and program director for Florida Bicycle Association who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation, recreation and fitness. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 334- 6417.