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Cape Council rejects effort to reduce speed limits

By Staff | Feb 9, 2016

Speed limits on residential streets in the city of Cape Coral will not be reduced below the 30 mph standard.

Cape Coral City Council soundly rejected by a 6-2 vote Monday an ordinance that would have reduced maximum speeds by 5 mph.

Councilmember Jim Burch pushed for the ordinance for more than a year, working with city staff and Cape Coral Police to debate and research the idea. Outside consultant David Douglas Associates, Inc., was hired by council to complete a traffic study.

That study recommended no change to the speed limit.

Results indicated reducing speed on residential streets to 25 mph would have little impact on speed or the safety of pedestrians and bicycle riders sharing the pavement with motorists. It suggested alternative measures, such as speed bumps or humps, signage, and other traffic calming devices.

The city has 900 speed limit signs on the residential streets in question and Public Works staff estimated the cost to replace them at about $100,000 while taking several months to complete the swap.

Cape Coral Police agree with the study’s results, noting that additional enforcement would be required which would remove patrol officers from the main roads.

Several citizens expressed their views on the topic on both sides of the debate. Some urged council to follow the recommendations of the consultant’s study because “they are the experts.” Others backed the speed reduction for public safety reasons.

“What matters to me is the public safety,” said Burch. “The signs and speed bumps, the money are all minutia to me. Car manufacturers said seat belts were a terrible idea when they were proposed, but now everyone wears them. The people who have asked me to do this said they grew up with their streets at 25 mph up north and were used to it.

“We are in a unique circumstance here,” Burch continued. “Most of our residential streets have no sidewalks and likely will never get them. The side of the road has swales and when it rains you wouldn’t want to walk there anyway. A Florida DOT study says at 20 mph one pedestrian in 10 will die. At 30 mph four people with die.”

Councilmember John Carioscia sided with Burch on the matter, saying, “People will speed, we know that. I think we need to appeal to the 85 percent of drivers who comply with the speed limits to keep our kids safer when they walk to the bus stop in the dark and without adequate streetlights.”

Councilmember Richard Leon balked at making a change apply citywide. He suggested residents on streets with a problem could petition to city to change the signs in their neighborhood.

“Parts of the city could benefit from the 25 mph speed limit,” Leon said. “We should not make a blanket law for the entire city.”

Councilmember Rick Williams weighed in on the topic. “There are two sides to this issue,” he said. “We’ve heard the empirical side and the emotional side. The study does not recommend changing the speed. Those are the paid professionals. Our police department does not want the change and I don’t want to vote against our police. People themselves have to take responsibility for their actions – don’t play in the middle of the street and don’t wear dark clothes on the streets at night.”

Mayor Marni Sawicki said she could not make “a feel good vote. I will rely on our police and the study that we paid money for.”

At the end of discussions, only Burch and Carioscia voted in favor of the ordinance.

In other business:

* Council approved two environmental measures Monday night, one of which bans the controversial fracking method of drilling for oil and gas. While admitting that it is highly unlikely any company would come to Cape Coral to drill for oil, council members maintained that the ordinance passage sends a clear message to the state that this community recognizes the dangers associated with fracking.

The ordinance’s main concerns are with the state’s fragile geology, the vast amount of fresh water that fracking wells consume and its contaminated wastewater disposal.

Cape Coral joins Estero and Bonita Springs in passing ordinances that ban fracking within their city limits. Communities are acting ahead of the Florida Legislature’s current attempt through House and Senate bills to establish statewide regulations, thereby taking power away from local governments.

“This is an assault on home rule,” said Sawicki. “The League of Mayors also opposes fracking. I have a problem when the state tells the federal government to stay out of our business, then turns and does the same thing to municipalities.”

Burch sided with the mayor, saying, “There are times when the city council should not take up state issues. In this case, we have to stand up and tell the state it is our decision not to allow fracking.”

Councilmember Leon cast the lone dissenting vote in the ordinance’s passage.

The other environmental issue dealt with a drilling practice known as seismic airgun testing in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. The practice produces loud noise above and under the water’s surface sufficient to harm marine life, causes habitat abandonment and permanent hearing loss for wales, dolphins and fish. Council unanimously passed the resolution banning airgun testing.

* City Manager John Szerlag informed council Monday of a stakeholders group being formed to explore creation of architectural standards for residential homes in Cape Coral. This comes after public opposition to modular homes being built in Cape Coral on Kismet Parkway and Embers Parkway.

The city is barred from regulating modular homes specifically by state law, but creation of architectural standards would apply to all home construction, including modulars. An example of standards under discussion include attached garages, rooflines, elevation and shape of the homes.

Szerlag will report back to council with the results of the meetings with stakeholders in the industry. The Cape Coral Construction Industry Association strongly opposes an architectural review process.

Council will not meet next Monday in observance of the President’s Day holiday. Council’s next meeting is Monday, Feb. 22, in Council Chambers.