Home' Island Sun : ISN 012216 Contents 9
ISLAND SUN - JANUARY 22, 2016
Sanibel Traffic: Further Proposals
by Mike Miller, Traffic chairman, Committee of the Islands
We have been pleased to note that Mayor Kevin Ruane
is taking on the issue of Sanibel traffic.
As part of this effort, he has organized a
traffic-related working group, which includes the Chamber
of Commerce, CASI, the Island Realtors Association,
representatives from the Island's hotel and resort industry and
The mayor, and the participating organizations, deserve our
thanks for this welcome effort. We all know that there are no
easy solutions and that progress will be difficult and slow. But the
effort must continue to protect the future of our island.
All Visitors Should be Cognizant of the Traffic Problem
The first step in dealing with any problem is achieving awareness of the problem.
We understand that the Mayor's traffic working group is considering various ways of
alerting incoming visitors to the beach parking situation and providing educational
information to off-island hotels so that they can better advise their guests about
dealing with Sanibel's traffic congestion. COTI certainly supports these efforts and
also supports other proposals to publish causeway vehicle counts and beach parking
information on the city's website and on various traffic-related digital applications.
But, awareness of our problem needs to extend beyond our local community and
arriving visitors. Those in the process of planning Sanibel visits need to be forewarned.
Suggested Changes to Lee County's Promotion of Sanibel
The Lee County Visitors and Convention Bureau (VCB) spends over $14 million
annually to attract people to "The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel." Their
promotion efforts include traditional print media and more contemporary approaches
including multiple websites and social media. Their Twitter page alone has 28,000
The VCB's principal website (www.fortmyers-sanibel.com) includes many different
pages, a virtual guide and FAQ's. It is an impressive example of state-of-the-art digital
marketing. But, although the site FAQ's cover red tide, how to protect purses in
restaurants and a variety of other concerns, there is no mention of dealing with traffic
congestion on Sanibel.
The VCB recognizes the traffic problem. They have expressed concern in published
marketing reports that the percentage of survey respondents who are "very satisfied"
with the Lee County vacation experience has declined to 51 percent as compared to
64 percent in 2013. And it was further indicated that when visitors were asked what
they liked least, more than half (57 percent) cited traffic as a negative aspect, more
than any other single listed factor.
We suggest that the VCB's website face up to the Sanibel traffic issue and offer
to viewers some suggestions as to how to best deal with the problem. It would be
a neighborly action to prospective visitors and, in so doing, the county would be
encouraging individual tourist responses that, collectively, could actually help with the
Possible New Marketing Messages
Potential visitors could be advised, for example, on the VCB's website, that:
• During the season, leaving the island either before 3 p.m. or after 6 p.m. will help
avoid time in gridlock, or
• Congestion frequently occurs during the afternoon exit from Sanibel so staying for
dinner at one of Sanibel's great restaurants would be a good idea, or
• Since traffic volumes are less on Sundays, that would be a good day to visit, or
• Since the beach parking lots quickly fill up, arriving early and leaving before the
afternoon rush would be really effective.
• And, maybe best of all, if lodging is available, spend the night and leave the next
A professional could surely do better, but the goal is to gently -- but clearly -- make
all potential visitors aware of traffic concerns and offer them some helpful suggestions.
Lee County Political Leadership Must be Engaged
Mayor Ruane has rightly indicated that the County Board of Commissioners and
the Tourist Development Council, the body that governs the VCB, will need to be
involved. Most of the approaches that should be considered to deal with our traffic
issues will necessarily require the support of Lee County officials.
Approved Intercept Study Will Provide Independent Justification
Sanibel's City Council recently approved $31,500 for a new intercept study, to
be done during this next season, regarding visitor reaction to the traffic congestion
problem -- and this study should incorporate Sanibel resident views about the traffic
congestion. This was a good decision by council, and the study will be important. Its
purpose will be to produce strong but credible and independent data to support the
proposition that the traffic issue is serious and needs to be addressed by Lee County
government with urgency.
City Actions May be Forthcoming
Mayor Ruane indicated at the last council meeting that he intends to review
proposed traffic actions at the February council meeting. Expectations need to be
managed -- remember, there are no easy solutions. We look forward to hearing from
him on actions to address the issue.
None of us should want to harm the Island's hospitality business. Tourists -- in
reasonable and manageable numbers -- fuel our local restaurants, retailers, cultural
events and non-profit activities that are important to us. But, if the traffic situation isn't
dealt with, the avalanche of unmanaged visitors will do great, even irreparable, damage
in the future.
COTI plans to share further commentaries about traffic congestion on Sanibel.
To read our past commentaries on island issues -- and to register for the COTI's
free email news service -- visit our website at coti.org. Comments on this or other
island issues are welcome. Please email them to email@example.com, or visit Committee
of the Islands on Facebook.
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