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Traffic control: Council starts another trek into fighting gridlock

By Staff | Jun 10, 2015

Periwinkle Way is usually clogged with automobiles from February to April which is considered the busy season on Sanibel and in the Fort Myers area. CRAIG GARRETT



The 2015 Sanibel City Council took on a familiar subject which belabors the island for four months out of the year and one that many other City Councils have battled with since Sanibel became a popular tourist destination – traffic.

It’s a word which makes full-time Sanibel residents’ noses curl in disgust and it befalls the barrier island for one-third of the year.

But it’s one that will not go away for the City Council, which opened traffic discussions Monday, June 1, in its first workshop on the subject.

Some pedestrian and bicycle crosswalks are patrolled by a traffic controller on Periwinkle Way, which brings traffic to halt throughout the day during the busy season. CRAIG GARRETT

The idea session discussed by the City Council took on three possible avenues to alleviate traffic during the busy season, which included technology, behavior modification and hardscape. They also discussed the budget impact of such potential ideas and expectations which can come out of implementing these course of actions.

“There will be no silver bullet on this topic,” said Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane. “There will be no decisions made early on, because it will be a start of a process.”

Technology can play a part in lessening traffic, starting with signage placed well before the Causeway toll booth warning impending visitors of the traffic situation on the island.

For example, during the traffic peak times of 8-10 a.m. or the 3-6 p.m. window, the sign will warn people who want to enter the island that a potential one or two hour wait due to traffic is ahead for them.

“As people approach the island, they are not aware of the traffic on the island,” said Vice-Mayor Mick Denham. “As they approach, they can be advised of the traffic and then make a decision before they pay their toll.”

The signage will be updated by an automated system, in which the Sanibel Police Department can update it if the traffic is heavy and the wait long.

Ruane added phone applications can also be used to have almost instantaneous updates on the traffic situation, so potential visitors can see how long a wait it is well before they leave home or their hotel room.

Sanibel City Manager Judie Zimomra said an email blast to subscribers takes about a half-hour to send updates, with the best responsive times being 8-5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

“That is too long, we need as close to instantaneous updates as possible,” Ruane said.

A discussion was also had on offering live video feed of traffic on Sanibel, so people can see it realtime on their own device. The cameras could be placed on Periwinkle Way and Sanibel Captiva Road.

Currently, Lee County has camera feed on the Causeway, while the City of Sanibel has cameras around the island for security purposes.

Behavior modifications was also a point of interest and possible part of the solution.

“Behavior modification is important, and it’s a simple process by giving people options to change their habits, such as informing them of the peak time of traffic and the slow times of traffic,” Ruane said.

Councilman Chauncey Goss added one helpful tool could be more shuttle buses offered by the resorts and hotels on the island, so to lessen the dependability of rental cars by visitors.

Denham said potential flexible toll prices can have an affect on how many people cross the tollbooth, such as having peak times being more expensive.

“The county owns the Causeway, so we would have to have their cooperation,” Ruane added.

The addition of lanes and roundabouts was added in the hardscape options, such as having another lane on the Causeway leading off the island. More left turn lanes can also help lighten the traffic and shared use bike paths on both sides of Periwinkle Way could help the challenge of vehicles stopping for cross ing bicyclists and pedestrians.

“It’s all about the flow of traffic,” said Councilman Marty Harrity. “You just need to get the traffic off the road as soon as possible. If we can get one idea out of theses discussions, then it’s worth it.”

Councilman Jim Jennings brought up the Civic Core project, which will help alleviate events off of Periwinkle Way, such as craft fairs.

There was plenty of public comment from Sanibel residents, as well.

“I like the idea of taking events off of Periwinkle,” said resident Robin Cook.

Captiva Community Panel member Jay Brown, gave support and said the panel will work in partnership with Sanibel on the traffic problems.

“We’ve discussed a lot of time of the proposed expansion of South Seas Resort, which wants to add 140 units. That will be a considerable impact on the traffic flow,” Brown said.

Sanibel Chamber of Commerce’s Ric Base added the chamber also is working in conjunction with the city about the flow of traffic.

“We had 170,000 people come through the Chamber Center (located right after the Causeway) and we do inform them about the peak times of traffic on the island,” Base said.

Base added that 37 percent of the visitors on the island are daytrippers and with 2,000 more hotel rooms in Lee County and with most of them filled to capacity for much of the busy season, it’s just that many more people in the area.

“We are loaded,” Base said. “But (the Chamber) can play a bigger role and we do support adding signage off island.”

One resident who was in full opposition of allowing more people on the island was John Raffensperger.

“The Chamber is the problem by allowing and attracting people on the island,” Raffensperger said. “You folks (pointing to the City Council) ignored the citizens of Sanibel in favor of the tourists.”

He suggested holding the craft and art fairs off island, as well.

There will be another traffic workshop held along with the Sanibel Planning Commission in the near future to continue potential traffic solutions for Sanibel.