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Ribbon cut for final leg of bikers’ and walkers’ access to Sanibel

By Staff | Aug 20, 2010

3-2-1 CUT! Commissioner Judah is on the far right; Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane is eighth from right; Refuge Manager Paul Tritaik is seventh from right.

The Lee County Board of County Commissioners, in partnership with LeeDOT, Parks & Rec, the MPO, and BikeWalkLee, hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony marking the completion of bicycle access improvements at the toll plaza on Wednesday, August 18, under the first Sanibel Causeway bridge heading toward the island.

“About 75 people — most of them bicycle enthusiasts — attended the ceremony,” said Booch DeMarchi, the Special events Coordinator for the event. “Many rode their bikes and immediately after the ribbon cutting by the toll plaza, hit the trail to use the new bike access that connected the bike paths to the east and west of the plaza.” Billy and Salli Kirkland, owners of Billy’s Bike Rentals, provided water for the event.

“This has been two years in the making,” commented Darla LeTourneau, a Sanibel resident and a member of the BikeWalkLee steering committee.

When the new Sanibel bridge was opened in 2007, cyclists were excited to finally have shoulders on this road, making it possible to ride between Sanibel and the mainland. Unfortunately, the sections around the toll plaza did not include biking facilities, creating safety issues.

Letourneau, along with other cyclists, including members of the Sanibel Bike Club and Caloosa Riders, wrote letters to county officials asking them to fix these gaps. She appeared before the MPO and County Commission, requesting that funding for this project be approved. Led by

The movers and shakers on the project shared segments of the cut ribbon.

Commissioner Judah, the MPO approved funding for this project as part of the stimulus priority list, and the County’s resurfacing contract paid for resurfacing and improving the shoulders from old McGregor up to the toll plaza project.

“The popularity of cycling across the Sanibel bridges shows that, when safe an accessible biking facilities are provided, many residents and visitors will use them for transportation, recreation, and exercise,” said Letourneau. “Hopefully, any future bridge projects in Lee County will include appropriate biking facilities in the initial design.”

“It is truly a beautiful ride,” Letourneau said. “It allows cyclists to enjoy the beauty of Southwest Florida, to see nature up close and personal without bringing more cars onto the islands…

BikeWalkLee is a community coalition raising public awareness and advocating for complete streets in Lee County — streets that are designed, built, operated and maintained for safe and convenient travel for all users: pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities.

The coalition selected Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah to receive its first Champion for Complete Streets award at the August 18th ribbon-cutting ceremony. Judah, the District 3 commissioner since 1988, was singled out for being a tireless champion for bicycle and pedestrian issues in Lee County. According to Dan Moser, a member of the BikeWalkLee steering committee, “Ray has fought to ensure that biking, walking and mass transit have had a place at the transportation table — and that has helped ensure that bikers, walkers and those who rely on public transportation have had a place to enjoy on our roadways.

BikeWalkLee member Dan Moser, left, with Commissioner Ray Judah after Judah received BikeWalkLee’s first Champion for Complete Streets award at the completion ceremony for the bicycle access improvements at the Sanibel toll plaza. Judah’s award was created by Joe Letourneau from one of the many Australian pines toppled by Hurricane Charley in August 2004.

Three highlights among Judah’s many accomplishment were the basis for this award:

• As commission chair, Judah shepherded a Complete Streets policy for Lee County, making it one of the first in Florida to require that any new streets are complete streets — where all road users are being considered right from the first day of design rather than only after years of accidents and excuses. Not only does this make Lee County’s streets safer for all, but it will save the county money because making streets complete costs a lot less when you design these features in rather than add them after the fact.

• Judah supported the development of a countywide bike/ped master plan by the Metropolitan Planning Organization (the county’s partnership responsible for transportation planning in Bonita Springs, Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel, and unincorporated Lee County), and has worked to move the project through each step of the process. This plan, which will be completed this year and be ready for implementation in 2011, will create a network of connected bike/ped facilities that don’t stop at a jurisdiction’s boundary line, but are connected and integrated throughout the county. Judah’s leadership also helped the Metropolitan Planning Organization embrace the U.S. Department of Transportation’s new policy statement on bicycle and pedestrian accommodation, making it one of the first counties in the country to endorse the new policy.

• Finally, Judah championed the Sanibel Causeway tollbooth project which completes the bicycling connection between the mainland and Sanibel.

First, he made sure the project to improve bicycle access through the tollbooth was funded with federal stimulus funds, rather than county funds.

About 16 members of the Sanibel Bike Club, led by Patti Sousa, rode over the bridge together and back to the event. The Caloosa Riders also had a celebratory ride to the event.

Then, when he realized that this project didn’t complete the connection back to the bike path on Summerlin Road and McGregor Boulevard, Judah worked with the county Department of Transportation to ensure that funds from the county’s annual repaving contract were used to repave and improve the road and shoulders back to McGregor.

“Those who bicycle and walk in Lee County know there’s still a lot of work to be done to make our streets safer and more accessible to all,” said Moser. “But we also know that the county has made great strides — progress that would not have been possible without Ray’s leadership, vision and tenacity.

Judah, characteristically reaching out to share the honor, said, “There was great teamwork by the Lee County Board of Commissioners, Metropolitan Planning Transportation, Florida Department of Transportation and the bicycling community to complete this project. The net result is a safer bike path from the mainland to Sanibel. Everyone involved can — and should — share in the success of this great project.

(Darla Letourneau contributed to this story )

The approach from the mainland to the toll plaza.