Bonita Springs City Council is taking steps toward increasing the safety of the pedestrian-friendly Old 41 corridor. The city has made improvements along Old 41 Road for many years to encourage walkability and for bicyclists to feel safe on the streets.
Despite efforts to calm traffic through brick paver enhancements and pedestrian-defined crossing zones, large trucks using the corridor as a through street to U.S. 41 are causing disruption on the historic roadway, city officials said.
Transportation consultant John DePalma with McMahon Associates presented to council a traffic study completed around different parts of the city. Since 2017, traffic at Old 41’s main roundabout has increased by 13% to an average of 12,500 visits per day.
“That roadway can handle that traffic volume, it’s a two-lane road,” DePalma said. “Generally speaking, [Florida Department of Transportation] has thresholds and tables for what’s a two-lane road, and anywhere [up to] 22,000 vehicles a day can travel on a two-lane road.”
It’s not the number of vehicles traveling Old 41 that’s become an issue. The concern lies with 25% of the total daily visits being a mix of trucks with trailers and three-axel trucks. City Council seeks to find a way to limit unnecessary truck and trailer traffic.
“We’ve studied a lot of different cities around the state of Florida that have instituted truck restrictions and they initially do it with what’s called no-thru-truck [zones],” DePalma said. “You position those signs that are regulatory signs that are white and black.”
There are different levels of no-thru signs, and a white or black sign means that a truck could be ticketed for entering the zone. The signage is placed at the ends of each corridor. For the Old 41 corridor, theoretically signs would be placed north of the main roundabout and then at the south end before Dean Street to avoid trucks passing Bonita Springs Elementary School.
Council member Jesse Purdon wants to make sure all proper measures are taken before rushing to create an ordinance, specifically by speaking with Lee County Sheriff’s Office. He said these regulations could be difficult to enforce because of a shortage of deputies in the area.
“There needs to be an action plan in conjunction with LCSO to make sure that we are not in any way shortchanging the rest of the city because we are already behind on [deputies],” Purdon said. “We have 60,000 people. We’re running it like we have 40,000.”
Council member Nigel Fullick, who spent 15 years in law enforcement, said the solution could be quite simple compared to areas such as Broward County which has ordinances involving thru trucks. He proposed an idea of restricting trucks only during peak hours in the morning and afternoon.
“It’s learned behavior. We set up a 30-day or 45-day window where we tell the truckers they can’t come down here between these hours,” Fullick said. “Then you enforce it for 60 to 90 days. At that time, after 120 days, 90% of your problem is solved. Learned behavior. They know they can’t come down here. They’ll find another route. So, it’s not that complicated and we shouldn’t make it that complicated.”
Former Bonita Springs’ City Manager Gary Price attended the most recent council meeting and voiced support for continuing what he started in his position for more than 10 years.
“After 30 years [in Sanibel], I saw an opportunity to one, finish my career by starting a city and two, develop downtown Bonita and what could be accomplished,” Price said. “I’m sorry that we didn’t manage to do it, but I think we made a lot of steps in the right way that allows us to finish that job in a way in which it should be done.”
City Attorney Derek Rooney said the best order of process would be first establishing a simple ordinance allowing the city to establish no-thru zones before making moves toward resolutions for certain roads.
“We don’t have to … reinvent the wheel every time we have another street or another area of downtown. We just make a finding that this road should be no-thru trucks and adopt the resolution doing it,” Rooney said. “I would prefer to do an ordinance that can be expanded in the future rather than specific to one neighborhood.”
Council voted unanimously to have an ordinance written and presented for a first reading April 1.