The Lee MPO is in the midst of developing the countywide 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP),which sets the direction for the County's transportation future. Last week's discussion at the MPO's Citizens Advisory Committee meeting about the Tice Community's connectivity plan as an alternative to 4-laning Ortiz Avenue was a preview to the upcoming 2040 LRTP decisions overall. It was a reminder that if we do not remain focused on the MPO Board's agreed-upon goals and objectives and the good planning that went into the Board's adopted land use Scenario "C" we are at risk of falling victim to bad planning – the outdated and dangerous paradigm that single-mindedly pursues ‘lanes’.
By Dr. Margaret Banyan*
At last Thursday’s Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting of the MPO I wondered whether I had wandered onto the set of the 1968 zombie movie, The Night of the Living Dead. In this cult classic, zombies are driven by the single-minded and relentless pursuit of ‘brains’. An equally formidable foe was at the CAC meeting: road planners whose sole goal is ‘lanes’.
At the meeting, the Tice Historic Community Planning Panel presented a well thought out community-led request to model a connectivity plan as an alternative to the multi-laning of Ortiz Avenue. The proposal, which has been vetted many times over the past three years, is to expand the community’s grid network and reduce the planned Ortiz to a smaller footprint. The many benefits of this include greater economic development, safer transportation, lower construction and life-cycle costs, and enhanced emergency access and hurricane evacuation.
Tice community complete streets vision for Ortiz section
It was this proposal that piqued the anxiety of road planners who countered with a discussion solely about moving cars quickly around the county. A relentless zombie-like paradigm of ‘lanes’ persists, despite that the explicit 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan’s goals are to shift to a safe, multi-modal, financially feasible, community-oriented, and connected system that enhances economic development and embraces non-automobile access to jobs, retail, recreation and other community amenities.
Something is seriously wrong. The fault may lie in our collectivity inability to consider a different approach. Instead we do what we’ve always done whether it works or not – in this case the well-worn approach is making decisions solely on traffic models. Even more concerning is the possibility that the LRTP goals and objectives have been hijacked and that the traffic model has once again become the single most important element of the LRTP. Our collective discussion ignored that out of a list of 7 goals and 10 objectives only 2 speak to traffic or congestion. The remainder of the LRTP goals reflect sound planning principles that provide transportation access at the lowest financial and human cost.
It was three years ago when I reported on the community’s approval and significant benefits of the Tice Connectivity Plan in a BikeWalkLee blog post. The alternative plan now makes even more sense when we consider its alignment with the 2040 LRTP goals and objectives. It is consistent with the MPO adopted Scenario “C”, it enhances safety, offers meaningful transportation choice, is financially feasible, is sensitive to the community character, it enhances economic competitiveness, it manages congestion, and it encourages quality growth. And if that is not enough, the alternative plan is a complete streets proposal. Given that Lee County, the MPO, and the Florida Department of Transportation all have complete streets policies and provisions, we should welcome such a project.
Thanks to the thoughtful deliberation of the CAC members, this alternative Tice Connectivity Plan will be modeled. However, even with this vote, the traffic model only has the capacity to measure 2 out of 17 criteria that should inform the 2040 LRTP.
We are in trouble if applying the goals and objectives of the LRTP is as problematic as it has been with the Ortiz Avenue and the alternative Tice Connectivity Plan. This experience is but a preview to the upcoming 2040 LRTP decisions overall. If we do not remain focused on the agreed-upon goals and objectives and the good planning that went into the development of Scenario "C" we are at risk of falling victim to bad planning – the outdated and dangerous paradigm that single-mindedly pursues ‘lanes’.
In zombie movies, the only survivors are those who are vigilant to danger and utilize good defensive tools. That is the case here as well. To stop the road zombie scourge and correct the mistakes of bad planning, the 2040 LRTP must maintain its vigilance and focus on its already agreed-upon goals and objectives – luckily these are tools that we already have at our disposal.
*Dr. Margaret Banyan is a BikeWalkLee Steering Group member, FGCU professor, Tice Historic Community Planning Panel Chair, and MPO Citizens Advisory Committee member.