Wednesday, June 20, 2018

It’s time again for some sidewalk talk

Florida Weekly 'Outdoors' column, 6/20/18

Wondering how it’s allowed to get this bad?
It’s that time again when summer rains lead to extensive growth of any and all vegetation, from planted landscaping to wild flora. As I do every year at this time, I remind readers to keep sidewalks and pathways clear of overgrowth that can create obstacles for pedestrians and others. Whether the growth originates from your property or from the public right of way, it should not be allowed to create problems for users. What might be a minor inconvenience for some could be a major hindrance and even a hazard for others, particularly those who have mobility limitations or who are pushing a baby stroller or pedaling a bike.

In all of Lee County, any overgrowth that emanates from private property is the responsibility of the property owner. In most of the county, trees and bushes growing from within the right of way are the jurisdictional government’s responsibility. The one exception to that is in the city of Fort Myers, where adjacent property owners are responsible for maintaining all of the right of way from the edge of their property up to the edge of the roadway, including the sidewalk if one exists. Per city ordinance 134.2.25.C, repair and replacement of the sidewalk is technically the financial responsibility of the adjacent property owner, even though it’s within the public right of way.

While this ordinance might seem unfair, it is nonetheless enforceable, at least in jurisdictions that follow their own policy. I say that because the city usually repairs and replaces sidewalk — or leaves it in disrepair — but rarely if ever requires the property owner to pay for or do the work.

Right of way foliage, however, is generally left to the property owner.

The lack of enforcement of the sidewalk obligations and the application of the right of way trimming requirement are so inconsistent that I think the ordinance should be amended to reflect practice, meaning Fort Myers should replicate what every other jurisdiction in Lee County does: Remove the sidewalk element. Also, considering how much personnel time and effort the city spends maintaining its roadway medians, one would think it would do the same where it would have real impact verses strictly for aesthetic purposes.

On a similar note, obstacles such as illegally parked vehicles and other items such as waste containers and debris piles are also prohibited on all sidewalks and pathways. While most neighborhoods aren’t teeming with such obstacles, it only takes one car parked across a sidewalk to create a big problem for the whole street.

Unfortunately, my experience in trying to encourage proactive enforcement is that no matter how easy it is to identify and deal with those who are chronic violators, local officials have little interest in doing so. Usually it takes a formal complaint to get any kind of action, and even then it’s done reluctantly, as if it’s too petty a matter for them to be concerned with.

As I’ve said many times, I believe failure to enforce the law means the responsible jurisdiction is itself violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. But just like the way law enforcement fails to address obvious parking violations, so is the case for the U.S. Department of Justice: It takes a formal ADA complaint for a violation to be even be considered. While blocking the travel lanes of a roadway on a regular basis is not to be tolerated, denying pedestrian access is another story.

One last matter involving blocked sidewalks: As downtown Fort Myers continues to undergo change, a special segment of sidewalk is currently blocked from public access and might never be the same. The street-level pedestrian area at the Monroe Street entrance to Harborside Event Center is the home of more than 100 personalized bricks that were sold as a way for the city to raise money for the center’s construction and for individuals, families and businesses to be recognized or memorialized. Now the entire area surrounding the convention center is cordoned off in anticipation of construction of an adjacent hotel (one that might never be completed, thanks to the city overlooking title issues).

The plan is to inventory and map the bricks, dig them up, store them and then replace them at the completion of work. At least that’s city officials have told me. But if the loss of some personalized bricks due to earlier repair work is any indication, I have my doubts. Being one whose family has a few bricks there, I can only hope officials will indeed do as they say in order to preserve history and keep the promise that was made when they took the public’s money.

To stay abreast of these matters, visit Until next time, I’ll look for you on the roads and pathways.¦

- 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. 

For Lee County cycling and tri events visit Caloosa Riders Bicycle Club (; Florida Mudcutters (; and SW Florida Biking Meetup Group ( The Florida Bicycle Association ( is your source for statewide happenings. BikeWalkLee’s blog site has all the information you’ll need to stay abreast of advocacy efforts in Southwest Florida as well as statewide and nationally.

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