Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Still can’t get there from here: Lee County’s serious lack of access

Florida Weekly 'Outdoors' column, 10/19/2016 

For as much progress as our area has seen in terms of bicycle and pedestrian improvements, serious and major shortcomings remain. Most egregious is the complete lack of pedestrian access between Fort Myers and Cape Coral and between the mainland and Sanibel Island. As well, many of our urbanized and built-out areas and corresponding roads that are west of (and include) U.S. 41 are lacking in adequate bicycle accommodation. Colonial Boulevard, College Parkway, Cypress Lake Drive and Cleveland Avenue north of Daniels Parkway are chief among them, having nothing more than 5-foot or 6-foot sidewalks and no bike lanes. There’s little option but to use these major thoroughfares and when traversing them, as a pedestrian or cyclist, none offer adequate or safe accommodation.

Here’s one way to look at this inequity: For pedestrians to cross the Caloosahatchee River, only one of the four bridges spanning the river between downtown Fort Myers and College Parkway have a sidewalk, meaning anyone who wants to legally cross the river by foot must use the one span of the Edison Bridge that has a 5-foot sidewalk. So, to go from McGregor Boulevard at College Parkway on the Fort Myers side to Cape Coral Parkway on the west side, the difference in distance if the Cape Coral Bridge had a sidewalk is two miles versus the 20-mile trek required by using McGregor, Edison Bridge, Pondella/Hancock and Del Prado. For those wanting to do so from the Fort Myers side to Cape Coral from the base of the Midpoint Bridge, the difference is four miles versus 14 miles.

The Edison Bridge is the only bridge from Fort Myers to Cape Coral/ North Fort Myers that allows pedestrians. 
The Edison Bridge is the only bridge from Fort  Myers
to Cape Coral/North Fort Myers that allows pedestrians.
Cyclists fare little better crossing the river. Although some have motor vehicle breakdown lanes, none of the approaches to, or exits from bridges accommodate that use. Worse yet, to go from Fort Myers to Cape Coral there’s no shoulder on westbound Cape Coral Bridge so it’s not really an option, considering the traffic conditions most times of the day. The Caloosahatchee River Bridge (“New 41”) has no shoulders in either direction and FDOT indicates both bikes and pedestrians are prohibited, although I believe the bike prohibition is unenforceable since the bridge doesn’t meet the “limited access” standard required to keep bikes and low-speed vehicles off. However, regardless of legal issues, using that structure is an adventure very few cyclists would even consider.

Regular readers of this column may find this topic to be little more than me once again beating my head against the wall. Indeed, it’s pretty sad that I have to repeat this drumbeat over and over but I consider it necessary lest things remain the same indefinitely. Even with these transportation inequities being documented there’s absolutely nothing being considered to remedy any of the aforementioned problems. The reason given, of course, is cost, but to me it’s really a matter of priority — plenty of funds are spent on motor vehicle accommodation that are not even necessary (Alico Road improvement east of I-75 is one current glaring example). Other than the fact that all bridges eventually need to be replaced, the river will remain a barrier for the foreseeable future. Retro-fitting them with cantilever sidepaths or reallocating existing space to include accommodations are not options, according to those who dole out funds. The same goes for surface roads that have similar issues; right of way can be reconfigured to add bike lanes or at least widen sidewalks into multi-use paths, but that’s not something our car-centric funders are interested in spending money to do.

On any given day you’ll find many walkers and runners on the southbound span of the Edison Bridge — the only one where pedestrians are allowed. Most are there for exercise but some are using the sidewalk to get from one place to another. The exercise and recreation use is just as valid as the transportation function if you put in perspective that many motor vehicle trips are not for critical purposes but are taken for other reasons. The Sanibel Causeway is the most outrageous example of this disparity in access. A conscious and discriminatory decision to deny pedestrian use was made by Lee County when replacing the bridges less than a decade ago. If you think things need to change you’ll have to get involved in one way or another. One place to start is by going to BikeWalkLee’s blog to see how you can take action. Contacting Lee County commissioners is another first step to consider. Fixing these serious problems may not happen in many of our lifetimes but our area’s young people shouldn’t be denied the access we all deserve. ¦

- Dan Moser is a long-time bicycle/pedestrian advocate and traffic safety professional who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation, recreation and fitness. Contact him at and 334- 6417.

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