Members of the Town-led Public Safety Task Force presented certain findings and recommendations to the Fort Myers Beach Town Council on Monday. Council unanimously approved the proposals and set the action in motion.
Since late April, when 13 concerned members of the Fort Myers Beach community gathered at Town Hall to focus on short-term tactical approaches, public awareness and educational elements to reduce traffic incidents and fatalities along Estero Boulevard and other island roads, both short term and long term ideas have been looked into. Pedestrian/vehicle accidents spurred the committee into direct action.
On Monday, four members discussed crosswalks, lighting at those crosswalks, median refuges, excessive signage along the Estero Boulevard corridor and education and awareness. Lee County is expected to lay out $120,00 to the project, while the Town approved the expenditure of $30,000.
This is a drawing of a median refuge being proposed on Fort Myers Beach.
Mayor Larry Kiker, chairman of the task force, called this group's work important. "The goal was what can we do by Oct. 15 to get ready for this season and make it safe for people to stay and visit Fort Myers Beach," said Kiker. "This is an important piece of work."
Jean Webb led off the presentations with a report on crosswalk lighting. The task force identified 14 of 27 marked crosswalks on Estero Boulevard with apparent substandard lighting, and a lighting survey confirmed eight of those to have a below average of illumination level (less than the recommended 1-foot candle). An additional crosswalk at Lenell Avenue was also discussed.
"There have been some accidents that have occurred overt the past few years on the roadway between CVS and Santini Marina Plaza. Our proposal was to help channel pedestrian traffic by putting in a crosswalk and adding a sidewalk from Estero Boulevard to the entry at the plaza," said Webb.
The summary for cost estimates for improvements in those areas came to $20,865.
Lee County's Rob Phelan, who will be the project manager for the upcoming Estero Boulevard improvements, reported on crosswalks and tools that would enhance their effectiveness. Rectangular rapid flashing beacons and pedestrian median refuges were considered to be the best methods available.
Two median refuge recommendations were cited in front of Estero Beach and Tennis Club and Holiday Inn. These refuges are designed to require pedestrians to cross each half of the roadway separately to reduce crossing distance. The median, which would be involved within the center turn lane, would serve as a refuge area for pedestrians to wait while traffic clears.
The beacons -small rectangular, high intensity, yellow flashing LED lights that supplement pedestrian crossing warning signs- have demonstrated a high rate of motorist yielding to pedestrians at crosswalks.
County cost was stated as $40,000 per median improvement.
"Median refuge islands serve as traffic calming devices and helps to slow traffic," said Phelan. "These locations and devices are supported by Lee County Department of Transportation. The cost of these installations is coming out of an allocation of dollars put aside for Estero Boulevard improvements."
John Pohland made a presentation on removing excessive Beach signs. Among those deemed excessive were 'no parking' signs, signs informing of upcoming crosswalks, 'fines for littering' signs and signs that, until recently, consumed the base of Matanzas Bridge. The proposal is to remove roughly 80 signs.
"My charge was to examine signage on Estero Boulevard. We decided that there are an extensive amount of signs," said Pohland.
"We want to focus the drivers' attention on what is most important," added Town Manager Terry Stewart.
Lt. Ron Martin's task was to evaluate education and awareness initiatives to make the community aware of the risk and change behavior through information while conducting a community outreach program so that residents and visitors have access to pertinent information. Key ways include placing strategic roadway banners (priced at $1,200 for three) and raising driver awareness and situational awareness for all involved.
Public education will be distributed to hotels, bike rentals, community shopping centers and condominium associations. Pre-authored brochures will be available to download from Town and Fire Department websites.
A Beach Pedestrian Safety Day at Santini Marina Plaza is in the planning stages for January or February. Glow-in-the-dark wristbands are also being looked into.
"Our first proposal was a ways to communicate with not only our community members but our visitors that Fort Myers Beach is a pedestrian-oriented community," said Martin. "If you drive up and down Estero Boulevard, you will see bicyclists, pedestrians and families out for walks. We want to educate and raise awareness. People can't change behavior if they do not know there is a problem."
Stewart will now draft a letter to be sent to Lee County Board of County Commissioners to get their assent for certain Estero Boulevard-related issues.
"This is a very positive day for Fort Myers Beach," said task force member Al Durrett during public input.
On Oct. 15, community members will be assigned to a newly established and permanent Public Safety Committee, an advisory committee that was recently created by Town ordinance. Their work will continue addressing the issues brought about by the Public Safety Task Force.
"Meetings of the task force were sharply focused on defining areas in which it would be possible to initiate actions aimed at having immediate impact on pedestrian and cyclist safety," said Stewart.