This week, islanders who have been following the progress of the Alternative Transportation in Parks and Public Lands (ATPPL) study will finally receive news of what can be expected if the program's partners — including the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, the City of Sanibel and the Lee County Department of Transportation — agree with findings presented in what they are calling the "locally preferred alternative" summary.
This alternative, which the public helped generate last year in Phase I of the study, includes non-motorized elements in and near the Refuge (i.e. pedestrian and bicycle trails, canoe and pontoon boat routes) along with motorized circulators (including shuttle buses and/or trams) connecting the Refuge to other areas of the islands.
And, if all five recommended actions are moved forward, an off-island bus route that will transport more than a half-million visitors every year.
According to details of the summary, project managers looked at four types of buses — diesel, compressed natural gas, hybrid and electric — that could be used to address the mass transportation needs of the Refuge, as well as additional locales identified under the "Island Environmental Institution Circulator" portion of the proposal. Other stops recommended include the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, Tarpon Bay Explorers, SCCF and CROW.
As the program is expanded, more sites on the islands are to be included. Pick-up and drop-off sites along West Gulf Drive, Rabbit Road, Periwinkle Way, Sanibel-Captiva Road and Captiva are proposed.
So is an off-island site, which — according to project supervisor Kris Cella — may include the Summerlin Square shopping plaza in Fort Myers.
Cella also explained that if all of the suggested expansion plans are fully implemented, LeeTran anticipates more than 550,000 riders would participate in the Sanibel alternative transportation program.
That's a lot of people.
However, from an environmental standpoint, there may be no better proposal to bring tourists on and off the island. Of the four types of buses suggested in the study, program officials are considering removing both the compressed natural gas vehicles (due to their limited effect on reducing gas emissions) and electric vehicles (because they are cost prohibitive, at nearly four times the price of the other buses).
That leaves diesel and hybrid buses as the two preferred alternatives, with the latter having the most positive effect on the environment without the price of an electric vehicle. However, the startup costs of obtaining diesel vehicles ($670,00) vs. hybrid vehicles ($1.4 million) shouldn't be the final factor to be debated by the program's powers-that-be. That should remain, as it is and always has been on Sanibel, protecting the environmental interests of our community.
We would urge islanders to lend their support to implementing this alternative transportation project, which we consider the most environmentally-responsible plan to bring visitors to Sanibel and Captiva. Reducing the number of vehicles going on and off the island will not only be beneficial in reducing fuel emissions, it will also lessen the amount of traffic during peak-season periods. Hybrid buses are a "greener" alternative, and we support every effort to that cause.
People from across the causeway will be coming to the islands, no matter what we do. And that's a good thing, especially for the business community. So shouldn't we help determine the method they use to get here, which will ultimately serve to protect our environment? We certainly think so.
— Reporter editorial