It's been almost five years in coming: the island's first bicycle and pedestrian master plan.
But the plan isn't for Estero Boulevard.
The Lee County Metropolitian Planning Organization (MPO) secured federal funding to come up with a master plan for the town. But because the county is already working on Estero Boulevard, the plan will focus on the town's roads as well as "non-infrastructure" programs like education.
Catherine Wallace and Megan Heil discuss the dangers of trying to bike along the construction zone on Estero Boulevard.
"We're mostly focused on the connections," said Ron Gogoi, transportation planning manager for MPO. "You need to have a connected system."
Gogoi said the MPO will look at Estero Boulevard and make suggestions to the county, but for the most part, will be hands-off with the pedestrian and bicycle planning of the main thoroughfare.
During the MPO's first public workshop for the plan, held Wednesday, Feb. 15, MPO and Jacobs Engineering, the consultant, spoke to a handful of residents about their plans and took public input through a series of idea boards.
Paving the way for a state trail system
The State of Florida is working on a state-wide trail system that would connect cities on either coast. A Southwest Regional Trail, called the SUNTrail, is mapped out from Tampa to Naples and mostly follows along U.S. 41 in Lee County. However, developing a master plan on the beach could create a "coastal loop" into the SUNTrail - and make the town eligible for more funding.
SUNTrail stands for "Shared-Use, Nonmotorized Trails.
"Every community is different - their needs are different," said Ned Baier of Jacobs.
The firm is also helping Cape Coral develop a multi-modal plan. Having the plan in place will help the town gain access to different funding sources for improvement projects.
"The first thing agencies look for is a plan," Baier said.
The town's conceptual plan, which is paid for by $91,000 in federal funding, will identify areas for expansion or improvement as well as develop better educational programming for travelers. Wayfinding methods for bicyclists and pedestrians will be considered to help better direct traffic - whether on foot or on wheels.
Another Jacobs staffer, Katie Habgood, said at the workshop that Fort Myers Beach had a solid foundation already - it's a walkable community with good sidewalk coverage and many people choose multiple methods of transportation, from walking and biking to catching the trolley or driving.
The Fort Myers-Cape Coral metro area, however, is one of the most dangerous metro areas in the country, and Florida is the most dangerous state, for bicyclists and pedestrians according to "Dangerous by Design," a report released in January by Smart Growth America. Eight communities in Florida took the top 10 most dangerous areas.
And local beach residents agree.
The MPO and Jacobs staff asked the group to answer a few questions via Post-It, tacking their answers to questions about traveling to work, what needs are lacking and what walkers and bikers would like improved. Many of the answers related to improved safety, such as lighted crosswalks and separated bike lanes.
"It's been a frustrating year with the construction," said Louise "Weezie" Close . "There is so much untapped potential here."
Close used to live in Massachusetts and said she loves bicycling in Florida in comparison, since the elevation is minimal. She thinks a good encouragement for walking and bicycling would help get cars off the road during high season on the beach.
However, there won't be any bike lanes running on Estero Boulevard from Times Square to approximately Lovers Lane. Bicyclists will either have to share the road with impatient drivers or share the sidewalk with oblivious pedestrians.
Leon Moyer, who lives on his sailboat, relies on public transportation and bicycling to get around. He quit driving in 2005 and hasn't looked back. But it's impossible to share the sidewalk with pedestrians, he said - "It does not work" because there are often too many people, and they walk four abreast, leaving no room to go around. And with the construction, the curbs are too high to cycle onto the road to get around pedestrians.
Moyer said he would like to see some kind of boardwalk from Times Square to Donora Boulevard on the beach - it would give an alternative route as well as a scenic view.
"I suggested a boardwalk (to the town), but it got shut down," he said.
Why wasn't the bike and pedestrian plan coordinated with the Estero Boulevard project?
"This probably should have been done before," said Megan Heil, the newest member of the Local Planning Agency. "I've seen many near-accidents."
According to Gogoi, and Tracey Hayden of CellaMolnar, the consultant for the Estero Boulevard project, the lack of cohesion with the inter-related project was a matter of funding and timing.
Estero Boulevard has been in the works for almost a decade; the bike and pedestrian plan started rolling in 2012 when then- Town Council Member Bob Raymond asked the MPO to find some federal funding for the beach.
"The town needed a bike/ped plan and a vision, so that's what this is doing," Gogoi said. "The thing is when you apply for federal funding, you're funding five years out."
There will be another public workshop in April, with a date and time to be determined. The MPO hopes to have a plan finalized by June.
In the meantime, the MPO will keep the project updated on both its own website and the Town of Fort Myers Beach. It's also set up a wiki map for residents and visitors to provide input: wikimapping.com/wikimap/Fort-Myers-Beach-FL-Bike-and-Ped-Master-Plan.