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Guest Commentary: Sanibel Traffic: Further proposals

By Staff | Jan 20, 2016

By Mike Miller

Traffic Chair, Committee of the Islands

We have been pleased to note that Mayor Kevin Ruane is taking on the issue of Sanibel traffic.

As part of this effort, he has organized a traffic-related working group, which includes the Chamber of Commerce, CASI, the Island Realtors Association, representatives from the Island’s hotel and resort industry and COTI.

The mayor, and the participating organizations, deserve our thanks for this welcome effort. We all know that there are no easy solutions and that progress will be difficult and slow.

But the effort must continue to protect the future of our island.

All visitors should be cognizant of the traffic problem

The first step in dealing with any problem is achieving awareness of the problem. We understand that the Mayor’s traffic working group is considering various ways of alerting incoming visitors to the beach parking situation and providing educational information to off-island hotels so that they can better advise their guests about dealing with Sanibel’s traffic congestion.

COTI certainly supports these efforts and also supports other proposals to publish causeway vehicle counts and beach parking information on the City’s website and on various traffic-related digital applications.

But, awareness of our problem needs to extend beyond our local community and arriving visitors. Those in the process of planning Sanibel visits need to be forewarned.

Suggested changes to Lee County’s promotion of Sanibel

The Lee County Visitors and Convention Bureau (VCB) spends over $14 million annually to attract people to “The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel.”

Their promotion efforts include traditional print media and more contemporary approaches including multiple websites and social media.

Their Twitter page alone has 28,000 followers.

The VCB’s principal website “www.fortmyers-sanibel.com” includes many different pages, a virtual guide and FAQ’s.

It is an impressive example of state-of-the-art digital marketing. But, although the site FAQ’s cover Red Tide, how to protect purses in restaurants and a variety of other concerns, there is no mention of dealing with traffic congestion on Sanibel.

The VCB recognizes the traffic problem. They have expressed concern in published marketing reports that the percentage of survey respondents who are “very satisfied” with the Lee County vacation experience has declined to 51 percent as compared to 64 percent in 2013.

And it was further indicated that when visitors were asked what they liked least, more than half (57 percent) cited traffic as a negative aspect, more than other single listed factor.

We suggest that the VCB’s website face up to the Sanibel traffic issue and offer to viewers some suggestions as to how best deal with the problem.

It would be a neighborly action to prospective visitors and, in so doing, the County would be encouraging individual tourist responses that, collectively, could actually help with the problem.

Possible new

marketing messages

Potential visitors could be advised, for example, on the VCB’s website, that

During the season, leaving the Island either before 3:00 PM or after 6:00 PM will help avoid time in gridlock, or

Congestion frequently occurs during the afternoon exit from Sanibel so staying for dinner at one of Sanibel’s great restaurants would be a good idea, or

Since traffic volumes are less on Sundays, that would be a good day to visit, or

Since the beach parking lots quickly fill up, arriving early and leaving before the afternoon rush would be really effective.

And, maybe best of all, if lodging is available, spend the night and leave the next morning.

A professional could surely do better, but the goal is to gently – but clearly – make all potential visitors aware of traffic concerns and offer them some helpful suggestions.

Lee County political

leadership must be engaged

Mayor Ruane has rightly indicated that the County Board of Commissioners and the Tourist Development Council, the body that governs the VCB, will need to be involved.

Most of the approaches that should be considered to deal with our traffic issues will necessarily require the support of Lee County officials.

Approved intercept study will provide independent justification

Sanibel’s City Council recently approved $31,500 for a new intercept study, to be done during this next season, regarding visitor reaction to the traffic congestion problem – and this study should incorporate Sanibel resident views about the traffic congestion.

This was a good decision by Council and the study will be important. Its purpose will be to produce strong but credible and independent data to support the proposition that the traffic issue is serious and needs to be addressed by Lee County government with urgency.

City Actions May

be Forthcoming

Mayor Ruane indicated at the last Council meeting, that he intends to review proposed traffic actions at the February Council meeting. Expectations need to be managed – remember, there are no easy solutions.

We look forward to hearing from him on actions to address the issue.

None of us should want to harm the Island’s hospitality business. Tourists – in reasonable and manageable numbers – fuel our local restaurants, retailers, cultural events and non-profit activities that are important to us.

But, if the traffic situation isn’t dealt with, the avalanche of unmanaged visitors will do great, even irreparable, damage in the future.