During Tuesday's City Council session, City Manager Judie Zimomra presented the end-of-year report for the 2009 Sanibel Causeway Count, which included statistical records of vehicular traffic along the causeway dating back to 1975.
To the casual observer, taking a look at how many cars, trucks and other methods of transport came through the off-island toll plaza - month after month, year after year - you can immediately see just how much the city has grown in 34 years, and how much the tourism industry means to the island.
Looking at the month of December alone, back in 1975 some 78,668 vehicles crossed the causeway, compared with 243,172 vehicles last year. That's an increase of nearly three and a half times the amount of vehicles. And when you compare the annual traffic count in 1975 (795,348) to 2009's stats (2,926,862), it calculates to a nearly identical increase.
That's the good news in the report.
The not-so-good news, Zimomra noted, is that the number of vehicles crossing the causeway in December 2009 (243,172) dropped by 1,539 compared with December 2008 (244,711). That also broke an eight-month trend in rising vehicular counts, which was seen from April to November.
"It is noteworthy that even though the 2009 cumulative vehicle total exceeds the 2008 total, the 2009 total is less than every year from 1989 to 2004," Zimomra explained in her memorandum to the council. "Peak years remain 2000, 2001 and 2002. The 2009 total vehicles are 15,42 percent (533,485) below the 2001 peak year for Sanibel Causeway vehicular counts."
Whether or not this trend will continue in 2010 remains to be seen, but we are hoping that as the economy continues to improve and more people consider Sanibel and Captiva to be an eco-tourism hot spot, those numbers will begin to rise again. More traffic means more people coming to the islands, which translates to a better bottom line for our business community.
It may not be the most popular opinion, but slowed traffic along the island's major thoroughfares is a pretty fair indicator of a healthier economy. Yes, it may take a little longer to get from point A to point B. But that, too, would be a good thing.
And, by the way, we also found it interesting that the middle of the three lanes available at the Sanibel Toll Plaza is the least used lane. Although their may be a more scientific explanation for this, we are guessing that it might have something to do with the old "middle child complex."
- Reporter editorial