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EDITORIAL: No move may be the right move

By Staff | Jan 5, 2011

When the City Council gathered on Tuesday to discuss the future of the Dunlop Road shared use path project, it was considered a forgone conclusion that the island’s leaders would be choosing among four individual options to extend the path through the heart of the city’s most active neighborhood.

Early last month, counselors were introduced to the $400,000 project to add a shared use path extension past the Sanibel Public Library, BIG Arts, City Hall and the Sanibel Historic Village & Museum. During that same session, four alternatives were presented by Public Works Director Gates Castle:

• Option 1, which would construct a path five feet south of the existing eastbound travel lane.

• Option 2, which is virtually identical to the first plan, except the eastbound travel lane at the Wooster Lane curve would become the shared use path.

• Option 3, which would use the existing eastbound lane — from Mahogany Way to the main City Hall entrance — for the path, with a new eastbound lane constructed south of, and adjacent to, the existing westbound lane.

• Option 4, which would use the existing eastbound lane — from Mahogany Way to the main City Hall entrance — for the path, but rather than using the existing westbound lane for vehicular travel, a new two-lane road would be constructed in the median.

While the council debated the pros and cons of each option, seeking input from the city’s Natural Resources Department director and Chief of Police, who addressed environmental and safety concerns, the consensus of the five-member government board was to go with Option 3. However, because the city sought additional input from representatives from the affected properties, the topic was tabled for one month until a meeting could take place.

On Tuesday, after discussing the matter at great length and inviting comment, questions and three more path alignment alternatives, the council was again asked to select a single option so that the proposed project could move forward.

Councilman Jim Jennings made a motion to accept his slightly modified version of Option 4, but the motion died without a second.

Councilman Marty Harrity made a motion to accept the original version of Option 4, with Jennings seconded. However, with Mick Denham and Peter Pappas implying that they would not vote to approve that option — with Mayor Kevin Ruane adamant about selecting Option 3 — Harrity withdrew his motion.

Finally, Ruane made a motion to formally accept Option 3. He received no second, and eventually withdrew the motion.

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained?”

More importantly, we think it’s a case of “nothing lost.”

Just as Denham pointed out, anybody who drives through Dunlop Road has to be taken aback by the wooded, meandering roadway which is marked by many sharp curves and lush, natural canopy. The area being considered for a shared use path extension is unlike most streets anywhere on the island. Peaceful and serene. Virtually untouched, save for the paved potions and infrequent signage. It is home to gopher tortoise habitat and strewn with native vegetation and wetlands. It is, at least to some extent, the definition of “Sanctuary Island.”

By not voting to move along one of the seven options presented to them, the City Council may appear to have stopped the shared use path project in its tracks. But it has not. What it has done is given pause for thought: Does Sanibel need to extend the path along Dunlop Road? We think that it does not.

Providing an additional pathway for bicyclists, walkers, runners would be nice… but it is not necessary. In it’s current condition, Dunlop Road is not in unsafe condition. People who drive through this area travel cautiously, not just for the curves and hidden driveways along the thoroughfare, but out of respect for folks who may be enjoying the route by foot or by bike. And respect for the wildlife inhabitants of the area as well.

Although we had previously supported Option 3, given that it had been backed by almost every staff department representative, Denham made an excellent argument: adding a bike path would essentially change the ambiance of that area and invite additional traffic to flow through this passive section of the city. We agree with the Vice Mayor’s statement, and we freely admit that our previous decision may have been made in haste.

Again, bike paths are nice, but not necessary.

We also hope that if and when the council addresses extending the pathway along Dunlop Road again in the future, it will consider an eighth option: doing nothing at all. The $400,000 set aside in the FY2010-11 budget could be spent on upgrades and improvements to other portions of the shared use path on Sanibel. Tending to some of the cracks, holes, faded lines and other neglected areas of the system would go a long way in addressing the city’s top priority of public safety.

When something isn’t broke, there really is no need to fix it.

— Reporter editorial