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Dunlop Road bike path extension plan goes flat

By Staff | Jan 5, 2011

During a meeting held last month, the City Council seemed to have reached a consensus on selecting one of four proposed shared use path extension options for the area along Dunlop Road and the intersection of Wooster Lane.

Following Tuesday’s meeting, however, the city appeared to be farther away from designating a plan for that project than ever before.

According to City Manager Judie Zimomra, the Fiscal Year 2010-11 budget includes $400,000 to construct the shared use path as well as additional path components along the north side of Periwinkle Way (from the Sanibel Community Association crosswalk to the St. Michael’s Church crosswalk); paths interconnecting the library, City Hall, BIG Arts and the Sanibel Historic Village & Museum; installation of signage and dark sky compliant lighting for the proposed Dunlop Road pathway; and investigating methods of improving the SCA crosswalk.

Last month, Public Works Director Gates Castle presented four options for the council to consider. They included:

Option 1 — Constructing the shared use path five feet south of the existing eastbound travel lane. While probably the least expensive option, it is also the one with the greatest environmental impact involving gopher tortoise habitat, native vegetation and wetlands.

Option 2 — Identical to Option 1, except the eastbound travel lane at the Wooster Lane curve would become the shared use path. As a result, there would be no wetlands impact, but gopher tortoise and native vegetation would remain impacted.

Option 3 — Utilizing the existing eastbound lane from Mahogany Way to the main City Hall entrance for the shared use path, a new eastbound lane would be constructed south of, and adjacent to, the existing westbound lane. A portion of the existing westbound lane could be used for the interconnecting path previously mentioned and the ingress/egress for the BIG Arts/Village & Museum parking lot would be modified. This option would be more expensive than options 1 or 2, but would have no gopher tortoise or wetlands impact. Native roadway trees would need to be relocated with this option.

Option 4 — Utilizing the existing eastbound lane from Mahogany Way to the main City Hall entrance for the shared use path, but rather than utilizing the existing westbound lane for vehicular travel, a new two-lane road would be constructed in the median. A portion of the existing westbound lane could be used for the interconnecting path previously mentioned and the BIG Arts/Village & Museum parking lot would be reconfigured with a new ingress/egress location and possible enlargement utilizing space gained through the elimination of the existing westbound lane. This option would be the most expensive and require the relocation of more native street trees than the other options.

Three weeks ago, members of the city staff met with representatives from BIG Arts, one of the four main sites — which also includes the Sanibel Public Library, City Hall and the Sanibel Historic Village & Museum — that will be impacted by the project. During that meeting, the BIG Arts Facilities Committee presented two additional alternatives to the original plans prepared by the city’s Public Works Department:

Option 5 — Widening the eastbound lane for two-way vehicular traffic, with the shared use path located adjacent to the roadway.

Option 6 — Identical to Option 5, but with the shared use path moved to the north side of Dunlop Road.

BIG Arts later withdrew their support for Option 5.

According to Chief of Police Bill Tomlinson, neither of the two new options reduce the amount of cross-traffic along Dunlop Road. He also noted that those plans would “increase conflict” between vehicular traffic and path users.

Dr. Rob Loflin, the city’s Natural Resources Director, reiterated his support of Option 3. He has suggested that all segments of the approved project alignment must be inspected by his department in order to identify and protect any gopher tortoise burrows or nesting birds.

“I would like to see us do the best that we can to maintain the vegetation buffer in whatever option we choose,” said Vice Mayor Mick Denham.

Councilman Jim Jennings presented his slightly modified version of Option 4, which included elimination of a cross-over in front of BIG Arts and the path along the north side of Dunlop Road.

“We are always looking for another idea,” said Jennings, “and this is how I thought we could do that.”

During the public comment portion of the meeting, resident Gloria Hannan objected to all of the options which moved two-way vehicle traffic along the eastbound portion of Dunlop Road, explaining that increased traffic noise and reduced safety would lower her property’s value.

Mike Hannan noted that most of the options presented to council were inconsistent with the Sanibel Plan.

“I see this as something that will serve the tourists, and that’s fine as long as it does not impinge upon the residents,” he added.

Bill Sartoris, a member of the Sanibel Bike Club, said that he favored Option 3.

Peter Pappas, who suggested that “BIG Arts could not live with Option 3, told his fellow council members that he was not entirely sure the project was a good idea in the first place.

“Do you know how easy it would be to talk me into doing nothing?” Pappas asked. Holding a pencil in his hand, he loosened his grip and let it fall.

Denham stated that in its current condition, Dunlop Road was not unsafe for both motorized vehicles, bicycles and walkers/runners to use at the same time. He could not recall a single incident, although Tomlinson declared the thoroughfare was at an “F” level for safety.

“Adding a bike path is essentially going to change the ambiance of that area,” said Denham, pointing out the roadway’s thick native vegetation, lush canopy and frequent curves. “We have to be very careful with what we do.”

Jennings’ motion to accept his version of Option 4 did not receive a second. Marty Harrity’s motion to approve the unaltered Option 4 was seconded by Jennings, but Denham, Pappas and Mayor Kevin Ruane rejected it.

Ruane later said he still preferred Option 3, but withdrew his motion after it received no support.

Finally, based upon Zimomra’s recommendation, councilors agreed to move forward with plans to make improvements to the shared use path east of the Dunlop Road/Wooster Lane area, including extending the path from Periwinkle Way to Dunlop and enhancements to the crosswalk in front of the SCA.

Zimomra asked for the council to approve directing city staff to bring back conceptual drawings and recommendations at their next meeting, scheduled for Feb. 1. Her request was unanimously approved.