Bonita Springs City Council discussed Wednesday implementing a policy that would allow removal of traffic fatality memorials in public rights of way after six months.
City Councilor Fred Forbes brought the first discussion of these memorials to a meeting in May. The city began receiving emails from residents with safety concerns that memorials are too close to public roadways and sidewalks while not being well-maintained.
Florida Department of Transportation has a Memorial Marker Program to recognize those who died in traffic accidents. These round aluminum signs are installed only on designated state roads and aren’t permitted to be placed on city or county roads. The signs are allowed to remain in the right of way for one year but may not be placed in areas prohibited by local governing entities.
“You don’t want these things accumulating all over the city, because it’s giving a negative image to the city,” Forbes said. “It will appear to some that we may be ahead of what we really are in number of [traffic] deaths.”
After the May discussion, city staff researched cities around the country with policies limiting the duration of these memorials and presented Wednesday an example of the city of St. Paul, Minnesota. The city’s policy allows for any roadside memorial in a public right of way to be removed within six months of discovery by the Department of Public Works and immediately if it interferes with the roadway.
Assistant City Manager Matt Feeney proposed adopting a policy similar to St. Paul’s as a compromise for those who’ve been affected by the loss of a loved one while still providing a definitive timeframe.
“There are strong emotions, understandably so, on both sides of this issue, in that some folks who live in the corridors where these happen really want to see some finality to the memorial,” Feeney said. “And understandably, if you’ve lost a loved one, you’re interested in [memorializing] what had happened.”
Notifying families before memorials are taken down is a step councilor Jesse Purdon wants to a part of the policy. He recommended staff leave a notice on the memorial a week before it is taken away so any belongings can be collected. Uncollected belongings can stay in the city’s Recreation Center for a week after the memorial is taken down.
City staff were directed to return with a resolution to the administrative code adopting this policy. If the policy is passed by Council, a six-month timer would begin on any memorials already placed in the city.