Wednesday, July 5, 2017

It’s time to clear the way

Florida Weekly 'Outdoors' column, 7/5/17

Dan Moser
If you thought your lawn and landscaping were all but dead just a few short weeks ago, you weren’t alone. That’s now just a memory as summer rains have come, sometimes with a vengeance. This windfall of life-giving water is welcome but there can be too much of a good thing, especially when so much comes so soon. Flash-floods and early season ground saturation are two pitfalls of the weather we’ve experienced. Warp-speed grass and foliage overgrowth is another. Unsightly aesthetics are one thing but there’s a much more disruptive aspect of untrimmed trees, bushes and hedges.

Sidewalks and bike paths are frequently obstructed by overgrown vegetation this time of year, a problem that may seem minor to some people but not those of us who walk, run, skate and ride bikes on these facilities. Just as is the case with illegally parked vehicles, we are all put at risk by being forced onto roadway travel lanes. For those with mobility issues or other disabilities these obstacles can be even more problematic and, in fact, constitute a breach of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Overgrowth is especially problematic this
time of year. Sidewalks can become
impassable with growth.
Each year at this time of year I make it a point to remind readers to be aware of problems created by unaddressed overgrowth and to take action, whether that means trimming back your own sidewalks and pathways or reporting obstructions, including illegally parked vehicles and other impediments that block the way.

In every jurisdiction, whether it’s a city, town, village or unincorporated area of the county, overgrowth emanating from private property into the public right of way is the responsibility of the property owner to remove, cutback or otherwise keep public spaces such as sidewalks and pathways free of obstructions. But in some jurisdictions, property owners have even more responsibility.

Florida law allows local governments to put in place a provision transferring to property owners the additional responsibility of keeping sidewalks and pathways adjacent to their property clear and safe even if the problematic vegetation is planted in the public right of way. Such an ordinance can also include maintaining the sidewalk itself, even replacing damaged segments when they become a hazard or are not accessible by persons with disabilities — for example, ADA non-compliant. In our area, that policy is in effect in the city of Fort Myers Ordinance 134.2.25.C.

Generally speaking, the public works or transportation departments are responsible for keeping the public right-of-way safe and accessible, although most do so only upon complaints and, in my opinion, don’t do the kind of preventive maintenance that’s necessary (much more time, energy, and money is spent on keeping roadway median landscaping looking good). That being the case, in most instances they are usually prompt in taking care of problems when there’s a public safety issue or sometimes when ADA access is at issue (although the city is less than consistent as to how it responds in such circumstances because of their specific ordinance). Regardless of who’s responsible, we should all do what’s necessary to ensure pedestrians and bicyclists unfettered access. Especially this time of year, when things can quickly get out of hand, be sure to keep your own vegetation trimmed back, ask your neighbors to do the same, and make the appropriate government’s public works department aware of problems you believe it should handle. Of course, the requirement to keep the pathway clear includes non-organic items, such as parked cars, trash receptacles, and other moving or stationary objects.

Below is a listing of public works departments to make requests for maintenance (this information can also be found on If public works isn’t responsive because the problem is related to private property it may be necessary to contact code enforcement. Also, be aware that roads under the jurisdiction of Lee County and/or Florida DOT run through our municipalities so it may be necessary to direct your request to either of those entities in some cases. If you’re hesitant to call in a complaint please consider this: would a roadway’s motor vehicle travel lanes be left in a condition that makes them fully or partially impassible?

- 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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