"Be Pedestrian Aware" signs can be seen at three locations on Fort Myers Beach.
It is now time for Town and County officials to implement better lighting strategy at Estero Boulevard crosswalks to fortify that message.
Due to another pedestrian fatality on the boulevard on the south end of Estero Island last week, there is another call for action to reduce vehicle versus pedestrian accidents that are proving to be a serious concern to the health of residents and visitors.
A pedestrian successfully crosses Estero Boulevard at a crosswalk in front of Lani Kai Resort. Nighttime boulevard crossing is more difficult because of improper lighting along the Beach’s main road. Town officials are looking to change that.
Lee County Department of Transportation's Rob Phelan said his department crews would be adding emphasis to the boulevard crosswalks by repainting them and adding sidebars to the crosswalks that do not yet have any as well as painting new crosswalks parallel to the boulevard on some of the side streets in the near future. They will also be installing rapid rectangular flashing beacons at two assigned locations - at a new crosswalk just south of Santini Marina Plaza and at the Holiday Inn crosswalk.
"We believe these devices provide a higher compliance rate to motorists," Phelan said. "They are bright and effective. When the pedestrian comes up and pushes the button, it basically activates a strobe light similar to the flashing sequence that is on an emergency vehicle."
The beacons are mounted between the base sign and the arrow on the pedestrian sign at the crosswalks. Phelan said work at the Holiday Inn crosswalk would follow the work at the new crosswalk, which may be mounted within the next couple of weeks.
Equipment cost for a RRFB is $12,000 to $15,000 per location.
A temporary raised median will also be added to the aforementioned new crosswalk that will front Estero Beach & Tennis Club.
"That will provide some improvement on the pedestrian safety there. Raised medians are effective devices," said Phelan.
County has vowed to use $120,000 to $130,000 in expenditures, while the Town of Fort Myers Beach pledged $30,000 towards these improvements and more. Major Estero Boulevard improvements will begin at year's end or next year.
On Tuesday, Jan. 29, Town Safety Committee members held a workshop at Town Hall to explore safety priorities and develop education programs to enhance pedestrian and bicyclist safety on the island. At the time, these members appeared not to know the severity of the crosswalk accident that happened the night before.
"We need additional safety measures. Traffic calming needs to happen," said committee member Al Durrett, when informed one of the two pedestrians struck in the crosswalk had died at the hospital.
The Town committee's list of top priority measures for better safety on the Beach included repainting the crosswalks; aligning crosswalks nearer to overhead light poles; using motion-activated, flashing yellow beacons on pedestrian signs at high-traffic crosswalks; cutting the speed limit down to 25 MPH with the south end "walking district" from Church of the Ascension to Bay Beach Lane during tourism season; placing reflectors within the crosswalk boundaries; and in-pavement solar lighting at each island crosswalk. The reported cost to implement the embedded type of solar lights at a single crosswalk is $5,000 to $6,000.
"That's really not a big expense if you consider you do not have an electric bill," said Durrett at the workshop. "Estero Boulevard needs to be lit up far greater than it is now. Lighting needs to be changed during non sea turtle season."
Committee member Tom Myers said the self-contained embedded lights were used at the crosswalk at Red Coconut RV Park in the past, but were damaged and not replaced by County officials.
"Studies have shown that that the RRFB device yields a higher compliance rate from the motorist than embedded lights do, because they are at a better spot for motorists to see," said Phelan.
The committee discussed Beach issues that are distinct and somewhat different than other municipalities include lack of an adequate bike path system or two-sided sidewalks; streets that flood easily; congested traffic; trolley stoppage; vacation attitudes; narrow roadways; no alternative routes; and possibly more impaired or distracted pedestrians and drivers.
According to Lee County traffic accident data, statistics show that between 2005 and 2010, there were 21 recorded pedestrian versus vehicle accidents. Nine of the 21 -almost half- involved alcohol with either driver or pedestrian.
"We're trying to validate that these priorities are really significant, and by fixing these problems we will improve the safety and pleasure on the Beach," said Safety Committee Chairperson Bruce Butcher. "When you think of the challenges we have here, it's a unique environment we have to think about."
Regarding lighting, amber LED lights are regarded as sea turtle friendly. According to Turtle Time founder Eve Haverfield, those particular lights may be more expensive up front, but they last longer than the ones used at the light poles now. Locations at Publix Supermarket and Chuck's Last Stop Restaurant are currently using amber LED lights and are two examples of how well the lights do work.
Regarding crosswalks in general, pedestrians should take the initiative to wait until vehicles stop before crossing the road. After all, it is your life on the line.
"Every year we have people getting hit in the crosswalks," said Beach resident Arnold Mausser. "People either just walk out in the crosswalk and never look right or left. They make eye contact with nobody. They just cross the street. Or, there are folks that think they can walk across street because they make eye contact with your car. But it's not a real safe move to start walking. What if the driver is texting, phoning, eating, talking or not looking? If everyone walked up to the crosswalk, looked both ways, then "waved" at the driver to acknowledge visual contact with the driver, it would save lives."
Other measures for public safety being implemented include one or two portable speed signs at certain locations to help calm traffic as well as Children at Play signs down certain side streets and the idea of a recommended AARP safe driving class, brought to Council's attention by Beach resident Jim Stevens. There is a monetary insurance kickback for successful completion of the all-day course.
"I think it's important that we educate both the drivers and the pedestrians," said Town Public Works Director Cathie Lewis.
The Safety Committee also discussed safety education methods such as providing brochures to hotels, motels, resorts and condominiums for the "rotating" visitation on the island. Brochures should highlight trolley pull-offs, state law implications for not yielding to pedestrians at crosswalks, appropriate pedestrian behavior before entering a crosswalk (point to safety, wait until car stops before crosswalk) and correct cycling procedures (ride with traffic not against it). There was discussion on the recently hung banners, using media outlets to get the word out and erecting information kiosks at convenient locations or setting up booths at Beach events. A safety education week was also suggested.
"The population here is constantly changing," said committee member John Kakatsch.
"If you can't change people's habits, at least make them aware of the dangers," added Phelan.
County officials have touted the island as a pedestrian-friendly beach and have used that slogan in trying to seek ways to reduce traffic to and on the Beach to relieve traffic congestion.
Many know that the current Beach infrastructure without adequate sidewalks or bike lanes along both sides of the boulevard is poor. Changes in increments are being proposed to the main road when County officials reconstruct the boulevard during the upcoming five-year capital improvement plan.
"Those improvements will help pedestrians and bicyclists and hopefully reduce the number of vehicles down here, but you're still going to have congested traffic," said Phelan.
Here are some points and facts involved with regards to pedestrian/bicyclist safety:
- Legally, vehicles must yield to pedestrians who are attempting to walk across a street at a crosswalk. It is a state law.
- Pedestrians should not assume drivers would stop at crosswalks when they are waiting to cross. One should never try to cross until the vehicle comes to a complete stop and waves you by.
- The Beach is averaging a reported six accidents per year on the county-owned road's six-mile stretch, a 20 percent increase annually.
- Point to Safety - hand gesture to notify drivers and make them more aware that you are indeed at the crosswalk and are prepared to traverse the road.
- Never text or use other cell phone social media practices while driving
- Bike with traffic, not against it.
- You can pass a trolley only when it has properly moved off the road