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Task force rejects 25 MPH zone request

July 20, 2012
By BOB PETCHER, , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The two distinct speed limits on Fort Myers Beach will remain.

While the Town-appointed Public Safety Task Force continued to work on solutions to improve conditions for pedestrians and other non-motorists on Estero Boulevard on a trial and error basis before Oct. 15, the nine attending committee members collectively dismissed a recommendation to lower the speed zone in a "walking district" segment of the island during the busiest time of year.

Changing the speed limit from 35 to 25 MPH from Church of the Ascension to Bay Beach Lane from Dec. 1 to May 1 will not be part of the recommendations via a letter sent to Lee County Department of Transportation Director David Loveland. Four members voted down the request, while three voted for it and one abstained, leaving the committee chairman satisfied with the result.

"The group had already reached a consensus before it reached the chair," said Mayor Larry Kiker, task force chairperson, after the meeting. "I would not have been against it, but it didn't bother me that we didn't (recommend to change) it. The good news is that it doesn't close the door on that ever happening. It would not surprise me in the least that someone brought it up again, and it went the other way."

Town Manager Terry Stewart dissented and called it "setting a bad precedent" and "not using good judgment" due to a lack of data to make such a change.

Lee County Department of Transportation's Rob Phelan agreed and stated "artificially setting a speed limit below what people actually drive is not appropriate" and further expressed "concern about the viability of a seasonally adjusted speed limit."

Some concerns to be fostered into County letter recommendations for the boulevard include excessive signage at some areas, inappropriate lighting, a raised median refuge island at one chosen location and possibly temporary rumble strips (which have been used in certain construction areas) placed before one or more crosswalks to notify drivers that the crosswalk is ahead and pedestrians may be crossing.

Regarding signage, some task force members suggested Estero Boulevard has too many crosswalk indicator signs and that businesses should eliminate their signage at the foot of Matanzas Bridge. Others would like to see gateway-type signage at that area welcoming drivers to the Beach and further notify them it is a pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly community and to drive with care. Banners could also be used in that effect.

Committee member John Pohland, who reported excessive signage at some parts of the island, will identify signs that could be moved. Task force officials will email input to him.

"There is also another view to take on this. It is to get the pedestrian to be more responsible," he said.

Regarding the lighting issue, committee member Al Durrett spoke with Turtle Time founder Eve Haverfield about desired locations along Estero Boulevard to perform a test run on increasing brightness. Santini Marina Plaza was deemed the best location for that, although assigned committee members are having difficulty with FPL officials regarding available lighting and amplified wattage.

"We were basically unsuccessful in obtaining that information," said Jean Webb. Kiker will speak to upper level management at the company about the communication problem.

FPL will look into "performance level" of the existing Beach light pole lamps, which should be replaced after 30,000 hours of usage.

Committee members would like to see better lighting on the Beach. There does not appear to be proper brightness at each light pole, and recommendations have resurfaced about replacing 200-watt bulbs with 400-watt bulbs.

"I see other areas beyond our bridge where there is a lamp on every pole. We may have the same lamps, but on every third pole," said Pohland.

References were made about 400-watt lamp usage on the north end of the island, but only 200-watt lamps on the south end. "Our environment changes from one end of the island to the next," said Kiker.

Regarding crosswalks, a preferred recommendation list of three sites for a temporary raised median refuge island was assembled and will be included in the County letter. The top consensual choice was a location between Estero Beach & Tennis Club and the south end of Santini Marina Plaza, while the second was in front of Holiday Inn and the third at the north end of Santini Marina Plaza.

Imbedded flashing lights were also discussed but deemed ineffective in studies due to maintenance issues.

Phelan noted he has been collecting all input from task force meetings for the future road construction on Estero Boulevard.

This particular committee is working to protect residents and visitors from harm along the main roadway and beyond. Its accomplishments will be difficult to weigh.

"If we get one good thing accomplished out of this, that's great," said Durrett.

"The good news is that we'll never know that we saved a life or prevented an accident," added Kiker. "That's the goal."

The Beach mayor reminded all committee members that final signoff on all recommendations must go through Town council before being sent off to County.

The next meeting of the public safety task force will be Tuesday, Aug. 7. The time of the meeting will be announced.



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