Shell Shocked: The day Sanibel traffic stood still
It finally happened.
There were repeated threats in the past but they never quite materialized. And then, one day, Sanibel traffic ground to a complete halt. There was a line of cars from the tip of Blind Pass to the causeway. Not only on San-Cap Road and Periwinkle but the Gulf Drives as well.
It was the longest and most pronounced traffic jam in Sanibel recorded history, and it took place at 4 p.m. one weekday. Horns were honking, people emerged from their cars straining their necks to see what was going on in front of them and some nonchalant drivers even started tail gate parties and settled in for the long haul.
Helicopters flew overhead and the local TV news reporters tried counting all the cars that filled the Sanibel roads from head to toe. There were literally thousands of cars and none were moving. Minutes went by, then a half hour, then an hour. Not a single car moved.
There was an emergency meeting of the Sanibel City Council. All had been contacted during their participation at a Chamber of Commerce event at the Bailey Center, but since they couldn’t move their cars, the emergency meeting took place in the hardware section of the store. The police chief had managed to ride his bicycle over by using his official red flashing light on the handle bars which enabled him to bypass the recreational bikers on the bicycle paths.
“What are we going to do?” asked one panic-stricken Councilman. “This is the worst traffic jam we’ve ever had. No one can get on Sanibel or off. Chief, what are our options?”
The police chief scratched his head. “Well, for one thing, we can’t divert any traffic. There’s no place to divert it to unless you want cars driving onto the beach and into the gulf. We have to figure out why traffic isn’t moving on the causeway. That’s where the bottleneck is.”
“Do you have any police officers on the causeway trying to figure things out? What’s the report from the field?” asked another Councilman.
One Councilman began popping pills into his mouth. “What a catastrophe this is. No one will ever come to Sanibel again when this story gets out. This traffic looks as if it won’t let up for a month.”
Another Councilman responded. “We’re going to get our butts kicked in the next election. Who will vote for incumbent Council members who were in office when the story of Sanibel’s traffic freeze gets out? My political career is over. And to think I helped improve the environment by eliminating cinnamon scented hair sprays from Sanibel stores. No one will ever remember that.”
The police chief put up his hand to halt conversation. “I’m getting a bulletin from a team of police officers who managed to get onto the causeway by hopping over cars. What’s that, Jeff? What? You’re kidding me, aren’t you?”
The Sanibel Council members were waiting for the worst.
The police chief said “We now know what is tying up traffic. It seems that some turtles have placed their eggs right in the middle of the causeway and environmental officials refuse to have them moved until they can be certain that the eggs can be hatched safely somewhere else.”
“How long will this take?” asked one Council member. “A lot of voters will see this as an encroachment on their rights by the environmentalists. We have a delicate balance as it is right now between the commercial and environmental interests in Sanibel.”
The police chief jumped in. “There is nothing we can do until the nature lovers figure out how to deal with this problem without damaging the eggs or breaking the mother turtle’s heart. Traffic will have to wait. In Sanibel, the environment comes first.”
“But won’t the emissions on the part of thousands of stalled cars affect the Sanibel air quality?” asked one Council member. “If something has to give regarding the environment, how about our ability to breathe clean air?”
The police chief said, “You’ve got a valid point there. Something has to give — either the eggs or our lungs. There’s only one solution. We’ve got to get a loud speaker on one of those helicopters and order all drivers to shut their engines immediately. We’ll tell them that unless they do so they will be arrested for disturbing the peace.”
One of the Council members was very nervous about this idea. “Do you think any of those people who are stuck in their cars will come back to Sanibel after this disaster? We’re in serious trouble.”
The police chief thought a moment and said, “Well, we can always blame Lee County for this. We blame them for anything that happens here anyway. We can always claim that Lee County undercover agents planted the turtle eggs on the causeway to divert future visitors to Fort Myers Beach. But their normal traffic is far worse than ours — but not on this day. We’re in a no win situation. This traffic jam could last for days. Years from now this event will be remembered as Sanibel’s day of infamy.”
One Council member put it another way. “Yes, they will also remember this episode as the day turtle eggs forced us all out of office.”