Monday, March 7, 2016

BikeWalkLee supports Southwest Coastal Regional Trail

Vision of Florida interconnected trail system
It's exciting to see the vision of a Florida statewide system of interconnected trails beginning to take shape.  The first section of this network is well underway--the 275 mile Coast-to-Coast Trail from St. Petersburg to Cape Canaveral National Seashore.

For the past two years, Lee and Collier County MPOs developed and approved the route for our section of the Southwest Coastal Regional Trail, which is now vying with many other potential trail segments to be the next priority regional trail segment (after the Coast to Coast Connector) to move forward.  In 2015, the Florida legislation created a new program called SUNTrails (Shared-Use Nonmotorized (SUN) Trail Network, to be managed by FDOT with an annual funding level of $25 million.

Lee Co. segment of SW Coastal Regional Trail
A broad alliance comprised of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA) and the nine MPOs in Southwest Florida are working together to push for the Southwest Coastal Regional Trail as the next trail segment to be chosen by the Florida Greenways and Trails Council.  If selected it would begin to receive funding from FDOT's SUNTrails program.   The Southwest Coastal Regional Trail is part of the "shortlist" of 7 trails selected for further evaluation.  The Council will soon pick it's top recommended trail and submit it to FDOT for selection.  We have our collective fingers crossed. A special thanks to Ron Gogoi of the Lee MPO staff for his special efforts on this initiative.

This is a long term project that many of us will never see completed in our lifetime but it will be wonderful for our grandchildren.  In the near future the Coast-to-Coast Trail will be completed and it will show everyone the incredible economic, mobility, and quality of life potential of a interconnected trail system.  I for one can't wait!!

Below is the letter of support that BikeWalkLee submitted, along with a link to the region-wide alliance letter of support.

Report by Darla Letourneau 
                                                                                                                                           BikeWalkLee's Letter of Support for Southwest Coastal Regional Trail
February 22, 2016

Dear Mr. Chiaramonte,

BikeWalkLee is an award-winning volunteer community coalition with 70 supporter organizations raising public awareness and advocating for complete streets in Lee County.  Since our inception in 2009, we have been strong supporters of the vision of a connected and integrated statewide trail system throughout Florida. 
We were an early supporter of the River of Grass Greenway, which both Lee and Collier MPO Boards have made a funding priority over the past 5 years.  We also urged our Lee Legislative Delegation to support the 275 mile Coast-to-Coast Trail from St. Petersburg to Cape Canaveral National Seashore.  Our annual letter to the Lee Legislative Delegation for the past four years has made bike tourism and the statewide network of bike/ped paths, now called SunTrail, one of our top priorities. 

In the Fall of 2014, the Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation CEO, Dale Allen, made a well-received presentation to a joint Lee/Collier MPO Board meeting about the vision of a statewide trail system. This vision energized the MPO staff and advocates in both counties to form a joint working group in early 2015 that developed the best route for a regional trail in Southwest Florida, called the Southwest Coast Connector (N2N).  In early 2016 the Lee MPO submitted grant applications for SunTrail funds to undertake two projects on the Southwest Coast Connector--the Kismet Parkway shared use path in Cape Coral, which would be part of the Charlotte Lee Hendry Trail; and funds for the PD and E study for the last segment of the popular John Yarborough Linear Park Trail in Fort Myers.  Other segments of the trail going through Lee County are either planned, programmed, or existing.

We see bike tourism as a winning economic development strategy for Florida.  This lucrative niche market is especially attractive for international travelers and a younger demographic.  With Florida's temperate winters and flat terrain, the potential for destination bike tourism has an enormous potential for high returns on our investment in Florida. 
Lee County's current Tour de Parks route

The $10 million federal TIGER grant awarded in 2013 to the Lee MPO for its Complete Streets Initiative Project will be completed  by the end of 2016, setting the stage for enhanced economic benefits from bike tourism, which would be greatly enhanced by a trail system that linked Lee County to Collier County to the South and all the way to Tampa to the North. 
TIGER Complete Streets Initiative
Bike tourism is already gaining traction in Lee County with the recent completion of Cape Coral's 90-mile bicycle routes system.  By the end of this year, there were be 14.3 miles of additional shared use paths as result of the TIGER grant, increasing the current connected shared use path system in the area (Lee County's Tour de Parks Loop) to a total of almost 50 miles.  In addition, last year FDOT programmed funds to conduct a PD and E study for a shared use path that will connect the Cape Coral system to Pine Island, which already has a shared use path the length of the island on Stringfellow Rd.  This new 2.3 mile connection will connect the 90 mile system in Cape Coral to the 5.6 mile path on Pine Island, creating almost 98 miles of a connected path system.

Cape Coral's 90 Mile Bicycle Route

Commitment to improving our bike/ped facilities network and the safety of its users is a high priority by both the elected bodies and communities  in Lee County, as evidenced by our growing number of communities designated as Bicycle Friendly Communities (BFC)--in 2014 Sanibel was elevated to Silver status, and in 2015 Cape Coral was designated as a Bronze BFC.  In the larger SWFL, there are two other BFC's--Punta Gorda, joined by Naples in 2015.  SWFL has worked hard over the past seven years to develop comprehensive bike/ped programs, including expanding and improving the bike/ped network.   SWFL is ready to take on the next big challenge-- the Southwest Coast Connector Trail.

In summary, BikeWalkLee strongly supports the Southwest Coast Connector, and urges the Florida Greenways and Trails Council to select our region as the next portion of the statewide system to work on.   We look forward to working with all the governmental and advocate partners in this regional initiative.

Darla Letourneau
On behalf of the Steering Committee

Related Links:
Regional letter by TBARTA and MPO alliance

Lee County portion of SW Connector Trail

FDOT PowerPoint on SUNTrail 

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