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Editorial 625

Missy Layfield - Editor

Death on the Boulevard

In the midst of our beautiful beaches, sparkling Gulf and sunny weather, we have a problem. A big problem.

A woman died trying to cross the street here on Monday.

She was in a marked crosswalk with her husband.

Yet an 80 year old behind the wheel of a minivan didn’t see them until it was too late.

A family is left to bury their wife, mother and grandmother. Her husband lies severely injured in a hospital.

This is the third time in less than a year that there has been a tragic accident on the south end of the island.

Mary Ann Hechimovich was hit and killed by a vehicle in March 2012 while crossing Estero Boulevard with her family at night. She was not in a crosswalk.

Josephine Kastner was struck by a car in a crosswalk in April 2012 and sustained serious injuries.She is visually impaired and was using a cane to cross the street.

This week Ann and Robert Bandy were hit by a vehicle while crossing Estero in a crosswalk at night.

That’s three tragic accidents in less than a year, two of them in crosswalks, two of them at night.

After last year’s accidents, the Town responded with a Traffic Safety Task Force and then a standing Traffic Safety Committee. Town Council acted on their recommendations and is working with Lee County, the owner of the Boulevard. There has been progress in that improved lighting is being installed. Pedestrian islands are planned for two crosswalks on the south end.Educational banners have been hung.

As with any project there are challenges. Everything costs money. Any governmental expense has to be planned in advance, sometimes years in advance. Estero Boulevard is going to be torn up and rebuilt sometime in the future, so spending money to install something that will have to be ripped out when Estero is rebuilt may seem like foolish spending. Any idea the Town might suggest has to gain the approval of Lee County.

People are urged to use crosswalks, yet three of the four accident victims in the last year were in crosswalks when they were hit. We have to make those crosswalks safer.

I suspect that our natural tendency to focus on what’s right in front of us today rather than yesterday or last month or last year, has led us to accept the rationale that we can’t consider this or that solution because it’s too costly and we don’t have the money for it. Or accept the glacial pace of approval from multiple governmental departments.

Yet another death on the Boulevard reminds us we can’t accept that.

It’s time to step up the effort and demand solutions that will work now, regardless of the cost or the possibility that it will be used for only 2-3 years before it’s torn up during road renovations.

Naples and Bonita Springs both have motion activated flashing lights at some crosswalks. The lights flash on poles beside the road and on the road itself when someone is in the crosswalk.

This option should be near the top of our list for making our crosswalks safer.

Turtle lighting issues?With all the technology available, I trust that it’s possible to aim or shield lights on Estero, especially lights at the pedestrian level, so they don’t effect turtle nesting and hatching on Gulf beaches. Let’s not blame our lack of pedestrian safety solutions on turtles.

I’m glad that we are putting up banners and improving streetlights and adding pedestrian refuge islands. I’m glad that an educational program is being discussed. I don’t think it’s enough.

We have an elderly pedestrian population. We have an elderly driving population. We also have a very transient population.

We can educate until we turn blue, but next week, the island is full of people who weren’t here to read or hear what we said last week or last month. There are lots of drivers on Estero who are day-trippers - unlikely to benefit from our educational efforts. We have to address this problem assuming each driver and each pedestrian just arrived here because many of them did.

It’s time we demand a plan that works now. Not when Estero is rebuilt.

People are dying now.

I’m not willing to wait, not at the rate of 2 deaths per year. Not if it means my father or your mother dying while we wait. Because that’s what we’re doing now. Waiting. The road will be safer when it’s rebuilt.

We have to make it safer now.

This week the Lee County Sheriff’s Office Bonita Springs Community Policing Unit conducted two crosswalk operations in Bonita Springs to educate drivers. They issued 60 warnings for crosswalk violations. Those 60 drivers will be watching for pedestrians in crosswalks now.

Why can’t we have a few of those on Estero Boulevard?

Why can’t we lower the speed limit?

What would we do to make Estero Boulevard safer for pedestrians if money were no object?

Would Lee County allow the installation of safety lights if they didn’t have to pay for them?

Let’s think outside the box and commit to doing whatever it takes to save lives on our island.



Missy Layfield