The Fort Myers Beach Town Council will be receiving one or more presentations about public safety on Estero Island in the near future. Recommendations from task force subcommittees will be brought forth for Town government consideration.
On Tuesday, June 5, members of the Town's Public Safety Task Force offered various recommendations about how to better protect pedestrian traffic along Estero Boulevard and other Beach roads. Issues such as lighting, crosswalks, medians, education and speed limits were discussed among the nine participating members.
"We are not going to cure 100 percent of the problems. We're here to solve 80 percent of the accidents that could be prevented," said Beach resident and businessman Al Durrett.
Recommendations include having Florida Power & Light replace 200-watt light bulbs on the main boulevard's light poles for 400-watt light bulbs in three test areas (possibly using amber LED lighting for sea turtle's sake); adding a crosswalk at a dense condominium area adjacent to the Estero Beach & Tennis Club south of Santini Marina Plaza (possibly a raised median refuge island); adjusting crosswalks nearer to pole lighting (if 200 watts remain at certain light poles); flashing light systems at certain high-traffic crosswalks; adding a crosswalk on Lenell Avenue from CVS to Santini plaza; providing better lighting to crosswalk at Palermo Circle; awareness marketing (trolley signage, distribution of safety brochures, street banners and road signs); and changing speed limits to a constant 25 MPH along the length of Estero Boulevard from Dec. 15 to May 1.
"The whole purpose of these recommendations is to improve safety and to minimize injury to people so that we don't have to use some of the emergency services. We are also trying to minimize congestion on the streets," said Beach resident Bruce Butcher.
The goal is to implement some of the recommendations by Oct. 15. Test runs are expected to take place at Donora Boulevard/Voorhis Avenue, Santini Marina Plaza and the Buccaneer Drive/7810 Estero Blvd. area.
"My understanding is for us to take all of these recommendations into consideration and for staff to put some sort of dollar figure on what the various costs are and ideas about timelines to try to accomplish them and then bring it back to this group," said Town Manager Terry Stewart. "For those that have very low or no cost, we will advise you and this committee of that. I recommend we prioritize those that we can accomplish between now and October."
Town staff will also engage in checking all pole lighting at night to see if there are any bulbs that need to be replaced or record any fixtures that may be broken.
Stewart met with officials from FPL about available fixtures and cost over a 10-year period. According to FPL, there are 108 street light fixtures along Estero Boulevard (not counting North Estero Boulevard) and the overll cost to change out each one to the 400-watt bulbs is roughly $65,000.
Driver education is another key component to public safety. Public safety announcements are being looked into for LeeTV and the island radio AM station.
The task force was formed just before a second pedestrian/vehicle incident on the south end of the island resulted in a seriously injured person. It was the second major incident between pedestrian and vehicle in roughly the same area within a six-week period.
Town officials and task force members are hoping to resolve issues and improve awareness that may result in cutting back on accidents.
The residential and business community can still pitch ideas as well as share remarks, questions and comments on the issue by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org before Council addresses the matter.
The Beach is averaging a reported six accidents per year on the county-owned road's six-mile stretch, a 20 percent increase annually.
"We must be able to protect our pedestrians crossing the streets during our busy season," Durrett said shortly after the two incidents.
Legally, vehicles must yield to pedestrians who are attempting to walk across a street at a crosswalk but, unfortunately, that is not always the case.
"Crossing Estero Boulevard can be dangerous, especially when you are not crossing at crosswalks. Even at crosswalks, not every driver knows the law that states they are required to stop for pedestrians," said Councilman Alan Mandel. Mandel is a proponent of "Point to Safety," a hand gesture that notifies drivers that you are indeed at the crosswalk and are prepared to traverse the road.
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.
Long-term solutions for public safety will be addressed when County officials are expected to redo Estero Boulevard beginning next year. That project will begin on the north end of the island and push southwards.
"That's the beauty of working on the south end first," said Mayor Larry Kiker. "By the time Lee County gets down there with improvements, it could be a few years from now. Hopefully, when we can measure the performance of some of these tests runs, we'll be able to justify if it worked or not. Then, we can incorporate that into the first design of the first mile (of the reconstruction)."
Kiker, the task force chairperson, weighed the importance of the overall public safety issue during his governmental work at the Town of Fort Myers Beach.
"I really think this is one of the most important things that I've been involved in six years in government," he said.