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Guest opinion: Third tram will enhance Beach visitors’ experience

December 4, 2018
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

You may recall that last year, the Lee Board of County Commissioners voted to start a pilot program on the Beach using open-air trams to transport folks at no charge up and down Estero Boulevard. This service complemented our county's existing LeeTran service of Beach-going trolleys.

The new trams were wildly popular - becoming more than a mode of transportation; they were part of a new Fort Myers Beach experience. Locals and tourists benefited. February through May 2018, the two Beach trams had a ridership of 118,604. That was in addition to the seasonal trolley service. January through May 2018, the Beach Park & Ride Trolley (Route 490) had a ridership of 101,133.

As we move into the 2018-19 tourist and seasonal-resident season, the county is able to accommodate more people because we now have a third tram. We will be assessing the traffic flow and see how the additional tram helps alleviate congestion on Estero Boulevard. We know the third tram will enhance many visitors' experiences.

Lately, though, there's been a group of folks who are conveying this as bad news. Specifically, some San Carlos Island community members are upset that a county-owned parking lot (the Park & Ride at Main Street and San Carlos Boulevard) will have some temporary adjustments made to it so we can accommodate storage of our three trams.

There are two factors at play here:

n Last season, with just two trams, we were able to park them at Bowditch Point on Estero Island. This season with three, there are space constraints. LeeTran has identified the county-owned parking lot on San Carlos Island as the temporary location for storage of the trams while county staff finds them a new, permanent location.

n The county-owned lot on San Carlos Island used to be the main Park & Ride for people riding LeeTran to the Beach. That's no longer the case, as the county in December 2017 opened a state-of-the-art Park & Ride facility with ample parking near Summerlin and Pine Ridge roads. That means we are able to accommodate temporary storage at the original Park & Ride lot without inconveniencing the vast majority of Beach-goers.

From an operational standpoint, LeeTran has chosen to store the trams at the county-owned lot rather than the new Park & Ride facility because it's simply too far away from the Matanzas Pass Bridge to ensure efficiencies and safety during peak season.

The county-owned parking lot at Main Street and San Carlos Boulevard remains and will remain a viable place for people to park if they want to go to the Beach or patronize San Carlos Island businesses. The temporary tram storage configuration means the county will have to reduce the lot's 61 parking spaces to 30 to 40 spaces for a while. This is perfectly allowable under land-use and county policies.

Another concern that has been raised is the loss of trees. But here are the facts: The county-owned lot has about 60 trees, and all but three of those will remain during the temporary storage of the trams. The trees slated for removal have to go because they inhibit the ability of the trams to navigate. The trees are one diseased oak and two palm trees. Once the tram configuration is completed, the county will replace the three trees. Also, a mature, healthy oak that the county had originally planned to removed is now going to remain.

The Beach community, tourism industry stakeholders and Lee County residents can feel confident that Lee County commissioners and Lee County staff have their best interests in mind. We are looking at new ways to deliver transportation services for Lee County and its communities such as Fort Myers Beach. The trams are an example. We appreciate the San Carlos Island community's patience as we do what we need to do operationally to get full tram service kicked into gear for what is looking to be a very promising tourist season. Our transit system is a countywide operation and we will continue to make decisions that help LeeTran serve people efficiently to the benefit of the entire community as well as its visitors.

Commissioner Larry Kiker is chairman of the Board and represents District 3.



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