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Bonita Springs residents and businesses express need for walkability downtown

work trucks in Bonita Springs.jpg
Photo by Samantha Roesler.
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Large work trucks often drive through the narrow Old 41 Road downtown. Local business owner Brandon Schewe hopes that in the near future there will be a way to divert this type of traffic.

In 2016, the metro area of Cape Coral-Fort Myers, which includes the city of Bonita Springs, was ranked the most dangerous area in the country for pedestrians by the Smart Growth America’s Dangerous by Design report.

Two years prior to this report, in 2014, the Bonita Springs City Council began working with the Complete Streets initiative, a transportation policy that states all road projects are to be designed to accommodate all users. Through this project, the city successfully implemented two new roundabouts, on-street parking and stamped concrete, which makes the road feel like cobblestone.

Although these improvements earned downtown Bonita Springs one of the “Best Complete Street Initiative” awards in 2017, residents of the city still feel like there is much more that can be done to increase walkability.

Kyle Moran has been a resident of Bonita Springs for almost 30 years and expressed his concerns to the city council for more safety initiatives for pedestrians downtown.

“The issue is when people have tried to reclaim downtown as a great gathering spot and a real heart of the community, but you still have to solve this legacy problem of traffic,” Moran said. “We need to figure out how to calm that traffic, put in certain infrastructure to slow the traffic and divert it somewhere else.”

Downtown Coffee and Wine Company is located off Old 41 Road in downtown Bonita Springs. Owner Brandon Schewe agrees there could be more done to improve walkability but has hope that the city is listening to the residents and is fixing the issues at a reasonable pace.

“I know the city and those that need to listen to the people are listening,” Schewe said. “I think there’s just a lag in time.”

The example Schewe discussed was the need for signage and arrows for the new roundabout, an issue brought up to the council a year and a half ago, which only got fixed within the past couple of months.

“I don’t think the job exists in any community development department that says, ‘I’m going to go look for problems and fix them,’ ” Schewe said. “I think these government agencies wait until the problems are expressed and then it’s on them to get the problem fixed.”

Schewe is hopeful that as more businesses voice the need for better traffic control, the city council will take the time to listen and work on the desired changes.

“My opinion as a business owner in Bonita Springs, and I know this has been voiced, is that work related vehicles should be directed around,” Schewe said. “Unfortunately, (Old 41) was designed to be a cut-through road and it’s big and has its speed zones. I think we can do a little bit more now that these problems have arisen, like speed bumps maybe are appropriate.”

Due to the heavy industrial traffic that still flows through the narrow streets of Downtown Bonita Springs, bicyclists are discouraged from using the road and resort to using the pedestrian sidewalks.

“When I walk (downtown) with my kids, it’s scary,” Moran said. “There are trucks going fast and they are loud, this causes bikes to go on the sidewalks. So now we also have this silent threat you have to watch for. Bikes can’t be on the road unless we calm the traffic.”

bike rider on sidewalk in bonita springs.jpg
Photo by Samantha Roesler
Although recent improvements have made room for bicycles on Old 41, locals are often discouraged from riding on the road due to industrial traffic.

Bonita Springs Councilman Jesse Purdon recognizes the importance of a safely walkable downtown area and assures that the city still sees the need to make improvements.

“I’d say that I envision a bikeable, walkable and pedestrian friendly downtown and I look forward to ensuring we financially prioritize areas of opportunity,” Purdon said. “I would definitely say we are on the right track.”