by SC Reporter Samantha Roesler
photos by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes
Safety concerns over Sanibel’s Shared Use Path, as well as much-needed repairs, were discussed at the City Council meeting this past week.
Director of Community Services Keith Williams told council typically, $150,000 is spent annually on path repairs out of the city’s transportation fund. However, for the past two years, that item has been removed from the council’s budget in response to concerns over revenue shortfall due to the pandemic.
But in its FY2022 budget, the city has $150,000 in the transportation fund for path repairs and an additional $150,000 from the beach parking fund. Although, Williams said he would defer to City Attorney John Agnew on using beach parking funds for repairs in areas not near beach accesses.
“We’ve never had extensive enough repairs to use (beach parking funds),” said Williams. “We have yet to turn a dollar from beach parking funds into a shared use path repair project.”
City Manager Dana Souza said city staff will look at all funding available for repairs, including a little more than $1.6 million in the road impact fee fund generally reserved for capacity projects, such as creating new paths or widening an existing path, and possible funding from the Lee County Tourism Development Council.
Each member of City Council agreed it’s time for the island’s extensive shared use path to receive maintenance.
Councilman Scott Crater said most of the 25 miles of path are in good shape, but there are broken-up sections, especially along Sanibel Captiva Road. He said his concern is “if you just try to do it section by section, you’re never going to catch up to where it’s a decent path.”
It’s a “huge ask financially,” added Crater, but on the other hand the city has not spent money on the path system in the past few years, and a large majority of visitors will rent a bike. The shared use path is a big draw on the island.
“I’m an advocate for doing as much as we can in as much of a comprehensive way as we can – using the past money we haven’t spent, plus TDC money potentially in the future, plus the beach parking funds,” said Crater.
Councilman John Henshaw expressed as the path deteriorates, bikers are likely to start using the roads.
“The more cracks and bumps on the shared use path, the more the fast bikers will use the street instead of the path when it’s not crowded,” Henshaw said. “I would encourage whatever we can do to make it smoother, that we do it.”
Not only can bumps and cracks in the path be safety hazards, but visitors who are unaware of the local laws can also pose a threat.
“This is the time of year that we typically get complaints about bad behavior on the bike paths, particularly failure to warn when passing,” Councilman Mike Miller said. “This year, there have been more and more complaints about e-bikes.”
Under Sanibel ordinance, class one e-bikes are permissible, however class two and three are not. Class one e-bikes provide pedal-only assistance, while class two and three are equipped with a throttle and can reach almost 30 mph.
“I think we need to communicate in some way our expectations for path behavior, both what our regulations and etiquette are,” Miller said. “I don’t see any other way to do it besides signage, which is a no-go on Sanibel.”
Not only would signage most likely not be wanted, but neither would thermo plastic to place messaging on the path since the repeated surfacing would create bumps. An alternative is paint, which would wear out quickly and have no reflectivity.
“The very same people who you’d want to pay attention to those markings are the ones who will never notice it in the first place,” Williams said. “They’re not looking for someone to paint a message on the path to tell them how to act.”
Some type of educational materials should be a component of a few signs “we can point to and say ‘here are the rules,’” added Henshaw.
Crater also suggested a 15 mph speed limit on the path along Periwinkle Way from Causeway Boulevard to Tarpon Bay Road. “That they will understand even if they don’t know they are riding an illegal bike,” he said.
In response to the uptick in e-bikes illegally being used on the path, the Sanibel Police Department has been doing a bicycle education campaign since November. Officers interact with bikers on the path and inform them of the local ordinances. They try to get information if the e-bike was rented and from where it was rented.
“We’re finding that most of these bikes are being used by older folks who probably couldn’t make the trip on a regular bicycle,” Sanibel Police Chief William Dalton said. “But, in all these education opportunities we’ve had in the last three months, they don’t mean anything to the person who just rented Saturday and is riding around on the bike paths here. This is going to be an audience that basically changes every seven days, a large majority.”
Darla Letourneau spoke during the public comment portion of the discussion on behalf of the Sanibel Bike Club, which has worked extensively with the city on the shared use path. Some of her concerns lie with maintaining Sanibel’s bicycle-friendly gold designation made by the League of American Bicyclists.
“We really urge you to use all the funds that have been budgeted this year to make the path improvements or the path repairs,” Letourneau said to council. She also urged council to address the remaining non-compliant stop markings on the path system.
Letourneau said there are path projects “on the books,” which could be funded with the road impact fee fund.
“I think it’s very important to understand don’t reinvent the wheel,” she said. “There was a master plan developed in 2018-2019, with $100,000 from the (Metropolitan Planning Organization). It’s just waiting to be finalized. There were 3,000 public comments that need to be listened to and acted on.”
Henshaw said he would like staff to consider looking at the master plan Lateourneau referenced to see what can be done moving forward, and Mayor Holly Smith agreed the League of American Bicyclists award is important to hold.
“Once we lose something like that, it’s going to be a lot harder to get,” Smith said. “I can tell you that we get a lot of recognition at many different levels on that award.”
Sanibel resident Chet Sadler also participated in public comment, voicing his worries after sighting an electric three-wheeler and a hoverboard on the path.
“It’s getting to the point that someone is going to get hurt really bad,” Sadler said. “I can’t imagine how we can just continue to let this thing get worse and worse and worse. So, I would suggest that maybe when we talk about repairing the bike path, think about putting speed bumps out there, because it’s getting so bad.
The Sanibel Shared Use Path safety and repair item of the agenda ended with Souza explaining his top priorities for the project, which include comparing notes with the bike club, prioritizing certain path areas and defining a plan on how they would like to proceed.
“I think that within 60 days, we should bring back the Shared Use Path Master Plan update. We should review it. We should see what needs to be updated,” Souza explained. “We can kind of hold our own feet in the fire to get that project finished.”